New Masses essay

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1. WHO’S a PROLETARIAN POET?
In his New Masses essay “Toward A Proletarian Art,” Michael Gold calls for “a poetry of the masses.” Taking our course offerings as a fair sample, do the poets published in New Masses most successfully achieve Gold’s call? Which poet in our sampling succeeds or fails the worst? What is your overall impression of the poems published in the New Masses? You will need to have command of Gold’s overall message throughout this essay. You will need to quote and analyze extensively from BOTH Gold’s essay AND the poems you choose — AND you will need to analyze the poems chosen IN TERMS OF Gold’s overall message.

2. CLAUDE MCKAY: PROLETARIAN OR MODERNIST?
The rallying cry of Poetic Modernism in Europe and the US was “Make it New!,” a call for all poets to create new forms of writing. Gertrude Stein is our example of a modernist. At the same moment in history, Michael Gold calls for a Proletarian Poetry, a poetry of the tenements, of, by, and for the poor and the workers. And still at this same historical moment, we find the poet Claude McKay, deeply respected by both proletarians and modernists alike. How did he do it? Can we “make sense” of how McKay “fits” into his times? On the one hand, he wrote sonnets–the exact archaic, European form modernist poets were leaving in the dust! On the other hand, he was a protest poet. Why would a protest poet of African and Caribbean descent choose to write in the inherited European form of the sonnet, the form of the colonizer? Does this use of conservative form add to or detract from the messages in his work? HOW? Give examples, quote critics, report your own reading experiences. You will need to provide your reader your overall, summary sense of “the times” in which McKay writes. You will need to define, present, and explain your own poetic values in terms of those issues in those times. And ultimately, you will make clear: Do you think of McKay’s work as: a) more Proletarian, b) more Modernist, or c) something else?

3. GERTRUDE STEIN: ATTEMPTING TO ANNIHILATE SOCIETY?
In his essay “Gertrude Stein, A Literary Idiot,” Michael Gold calls Stein “the perpetrator of a gigantic literary hoax,” and says her work is an “attempt to annihilate all relations between the artist and the society in which he lives.” Is Gold correct? Write an essay arguing FOR the idea that there IS social content and-or social value to be found in Stein’s writing. You will need to use support materials; consider any or all of the following: quoting pro-Stein critics and agreeing with them; quoting anti-Stein critics and disagreeing with them; comparing her work to that of her teacher and mentor William James, or to that of her best friend, competitor, and Cubist movement founder Pablo Picasso. This paper will argue both FOR the social value or social consciousness available in Stein’s writing and AGAINST claims made in Gold’s essay.

4. GERTRUDE STEIN: CUBIST?
Critics say Stein’s poem “If I Told Him, A Complete Portrait of Picasso,” is an attempt to write under the influence of Cubism. Compare the form of Stein’s portrait–the WAY it is written–to the Encyclopedia definition of Cubism and the two examples of Cubist painting in the packet (Picasso’s “Portrait of Daniel-Heny Kahneweiler” and Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.”) In your estimation, is Stein’s attempt at Cubist writing successful? Why or why not? You will need to quote extensively from both the encyclopedia definition AND the poem. When you refer to them, you will need to describe the paintings IN TERMS OF their Cubism. You will need to analyze at least three ways her work succeeds or fails at “cubist writing.”

5. STEIN: JAMESIAN?
Write an essay exploring the potential influence of William James’ “The Stream of Thought” on Gertrude Stein’s writing. You will need to thoroughly present and explain, through quotation and analysis, 1-3 key concepts in James, and analyze HOW those concepts APPLY to “making sense” of aspects of Stein’s writing. You will also need to quote, paraphrase, explain, and analyze sections of Stein’s writing IN TERMS OF James’ ideas.

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