Poetry of the Blues

Welcome to our study of the blues.  The blues are a verse/musical form which originated among African-Americans near the end of the 19'hcentury and are still being produced today.  They have had great impact on American and international culture through influences on jazz, rock 'n' roll, and literature.  The American poet Amiri Baraka has said, "The blues was first a verse form and then an extension of that form into music." This course will examine the blues as lyric poems set to music and as cultural products from various urban and country African-American subcultures.  Rather than attempting a complete survey or chronological overview of the blues, we will introduce key blues singers/songwriters-such as Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, and others-and examine recurrent themes in their lyrics, noting the presence of "floating verses" that pass from one lyric to another.  We will also look at some "literary" blues poems by Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown.

Our class will be internet-assisted so that we can go beyond the walls and boundaries of the traditional classroom.  By using the web, you will have access to many helpful sites about the blues on the World Wide Web; you will be able to freely discuss with your classmates and teachers the song-poems that we will read for class; and you may also receive specific and helpful instructions and materials that relate to the poems.

We will have two textbooks for this course.  The first is a course pack with the lyrics for the songs we will study.  You will also be asked to buy a copy of Walter Mosley's novel RL's Dream and write a review of it.  'We will provide you with the chance to listen to most of the songs that we will study.  Many of these songs and their lyrics will be posted online.  Students in the course will both "read" the blues lyrics as well as listen to the songs, discussing the interaction between the lyrics and the music.

Besides reading the novel and the required weekly texts and listening to the songs, you will be expected to write a weekly response journal, complete an in-class exam and write a final paper.  You will also be expected to occasionally transcribe some of the blues songs.  You and a small group of your classmates will be expected to give a group presentation in which you will sing one of the blues songs, analyze the song, and lead discussion of that song.  Finally, you will be expected to regularly contribute to classroom discussions.


We will expect you to attend every class session and to come prepared.  Attendance will be taken each class throughout the term.  If you miss more than three classes, your :final grade for the course will be lowered.  Please remember: if you are not present, you cannot participate, and participation is necessary in this class.  We expect you to come on time and ready to work.  Coming late to class will lower your final grade.
Reading Journals

Each week you will be expected to write a journal in which you respond to the reading assignment for that week.  The journals are your chance to give your personal response and understanding of the blues songs we discuss.  You may want to present your thoughts about one text, questions that you have, and the results of visiting relevant web sites (at least ONE entry).  You are encouraged to write your journal entries online.  We will not accept late journals or any other late assignments

Grading Policy

1.) Reading Journals, transcriptions, and participation (25%)
2.) Book Review (10%)
3.) In-class Exam (25%)
4.) Group Presentation (10%)
5.)   Final paper (30%)


Presenting other people's work as though it were your own is a serious mistake.  Plagiarism-whether intentional or unintentional-is not acceptable and will severely lower your grade.  It is essential that you do your own work for this class