Spring 2024 - ENGL 345 D100

American Literatures (4)

Class Number: 4813

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Tue, 10:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Thu, 10:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    30 units or two 200-division English courses.



Study of selected works of American literature. May survey a particular era or topic, may draw on transnational or hemispheric perspectives, and may be organized by any number of critical approaches including race, Indigeneity, sexuality, gender, historicism, class, or ecocriticism. This course may be repeated for credit if a different topic is taught.


Love and Death in American Women’s Poetry

Our course title riffs on a famous old book about American literature, Love and Death in the American Novel. In a nutshell, that book said that because American writers were so bad at dealing with love (and sex) they ended up writing about death all the time. This (iffy) thesis is vintage mid-twentieth century, as is its evidence: pretty much all men. If it spent more time with women writers, and specifically women poets, it might have come to different conclusions.

This is a course about American women’s poetry. Because that’s an inordinately large topic for a single semester, we’ll focus on works dealing with poetry’s all-time favorite cliches: love (and sex) and death. And why not? Poetry is, after all, perfectly suited to those topics. Why do people who would otherwise cringe at buying poetry insist upon it to mark public occasions, especially weddings and funerals? Why does poetry suddenly become indispensable when we want to express how profoundly someone mattered to us or how two people can matter so much to each other? A short answer is that poetry’s representative power—its ability to say something quickly about how it feels to be us—is especially potent at those moments. We’re going to look at how women’s poetry in particular flexes that power, but we'll do so in the context of larger debates over gender, race, Indigeneity, politics, and sexuality.

While we’ll read a range of American writers from the eighteenth century to the present—from Phillis Wheatley Peters to Jane Johnston Schoolcraft to Elizabeth Bishop to bell hooks to Natasha Trethewey and Louise Glück—we’ll use three poets as case studies: Emily Dickinson, Nikki Giovanni, and Sarah Piatt. I plan to throw in a few Canadian poets as well (e.g., Jan Zwicky), assuming no one minds me fudging the 49th parallel. We'll also explore critical and non-critical writings about these writers and their concerns.

Hear me now: You don’t need to be a poetry expert to take this course. It’s okay if you don’t know the difference between a poetic foot and a rabbit’s foot.


Our goals in this course are to help you refine the understanding of how language, especially figurative language, creates the world and our perceptions of it; anatomize complex relationships between texts and contexts; understand key aspects of the histories, forms, principles, and contexts of literary expression; develop skills in analyzing and interpreting language and text, broadly defined, and learn advanced strategies for creating and communicating informed claims about them; and use language, its history, and its capacities to engage with the ideas of others. But the big idea is to help make you a better reader and writer, so-called “soft skills” that can yield big results.



Tentative requirements and weights:

15% Preparation and participation 

10% Explication exercise (600 words)

30% Essay 1 (1500-2000 words) 

35% Essay 2 (2000-2500 words)

10% Presentation (informal, with a classmate, 10 min.) 



All poems and critical readings will be available online via SFU Library or Canvas.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html