English 40-2 - Fall, 2021

Introductory Topics in Literature

Topic: The Poetic Animal: Zoopoetics & Creaturely Forms

Class Information

Instructor: George Bagdanov, Kristin
CRN: 32189
Time: TR 3:10-4:30
Location: 227 Olson
GE Areas: Writing Experience


For millennia, poets have been mimicking, addressing, and representing creatures and creaturely ways of being to better understand what it means to be human and to speculate what it might be like to not be human. In this course, we will explore both poems about animals and "poems" by animals, focusing on animal poetics and poetic animals in American poetry from the 20th century to the present. We will examine how creaturely forms influence poetic forms, from the hypnotic weaving of the spider to the choreographic murmuration of starlings. Through the lens of animal studies, we will evaluate how poems have deconstructed or enforced a human/animal divide and consider how such figurations help us imagine new socio-ecological relations and creaturely ways of being. By reading key texts in the field of linguistics from bio- to zoo-semiotics, we will unpack what Eduardo Kohn means when he says, "All life is semiotic and all semiosis is alive." Finally, we will question poetic definitions of authorship and subjectivity and examine how formal devices such as personification, apostrophe, allegory, symbolism, and metaphor represent (or fail to represent) the animality of humans and the humanness of animals.

This class will hone your critical and creative skills and prepare you to excel in environmental humanities, creative writing, poetics, and other literary, sociological, historical, and cultural courses. Students outside the English major are welcome and encouraged to join.

No books are required for purchase. A reader of poems and excerpts of critical essays will be provided to students.


Assignments include: participation; field work in the form of weekly journaling and observation of a creaturely habitat; reading-response discussion posts; and a final animal signs project that has a multimedia, creative component as well as a critical, researched component.