Five Poems About Loss: Close Readings

with Jeff Nunokawa
Monday, January 10, 2022
4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

“All the new thinking is about loss. In this it resembles all the old thinking.”—Robert Hass

Poetry has taken as one of its core missions what Hass calls the subject of all thinking, both old and new. In this master class, we will consider how, in five poems, three modern poets try to make sense of a loss: the loss of someone or some place that had once defined their lives. Among the questions we will ask are these: how do the poems seek to measure the dimensions of what is lost? Most of us remember a time when we had to confront the death or disappearance of someone or something or someplace we never imagined we would lose. What do these poems do to slow down that experience, so that we have a chance to take stock of what we have lost? How do these poems help us to recognize how matters of class, race, and gender inflect the feeling of loss? What are the ways that these poems illuminate how surprising, indeed shocking, the loss of someone or something or someplace we love can be? What do these poems do to help us cope with that shock?

Jeff Nunokawa has been a professor of English at Princeton University for nearly thirty years. He’s written and taught widely, on topics ranging from Victorian literature to the history of the essay to the intellectual uses of social media. At present he’s at work on a book that may be called something like Mid-Century Middle Class, about being brought up middle class, middlebrow, mid-century by old-school New Deal, mixed-race, mixed-feelings-about-the-melting-pot parents. He is also writing a book about first sentences in literature, from Homer to the present. Nunokawa began his career teaching middle and high school, and he has been honored and happy to be in contact with middle and high school teachers at the Bread Loaf School of English, where he has taught since 1999.

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