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The History of a Form


10/20 and 10/21: Individual meetings

10/25: Close reading essays due 11:59pm

11/1: Journal #4 due 11:59pm

11/8: Project proposals due 11:59pm

Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters


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This Week

Lists are everywhere. Grocery lists, bucket lists, hit lists, “10 Things I Hate About You”—the list, as it were, goes on! But while the OED describes the “listicle” as a combination of “list + article” invented in 2007, lists are one of the oldest and most enduring literary forms. Lists have been used to make political statements, tell stories, craft arguments, reveal injustices, even imagine heaven and hell!


From early medieval catalog poems like Widsith and Deor to Biblical enumeration to Solmaz Sharif’s “Look,” this class will consider the history of the list as a literary genre. By comparing some of the oldest examples with current, contemporary poetry, we will consider the roots of a form we still use every day.





Course Description
Course Description
Course Policies

Course Policies

Grading and Assignments

Written assignments must be submitted on Canvas by 11:59 pm on the due date. They should be submitted as a .docx or .pdf file, written in 12-point, Times New Roman font, with 1” margins on all sides and consistent double spacing throughout. It is your responsibility to make sure I can access your essay; if you aren't sure your submission was successful, please let me know! A 1/3 letter grade will be deducted from essays submitted as corrupt or empty files. Extensions should be requested at least 48 hours in advance of the deadline.

Image by Thomas Kelley

On Academic Integrity

Academic honesty is a sign of respect for the intellectual community we are creating in this course and at this university. Your assignments are designed to develop your individual abilities to read and write critically, and it is fundamental that all the work you submit is your own, written specifically for this class. All quotations, ideas, or other material that you may derive from the work of others must be properly cited. If you are unsure about what to cite, or how to cite it, please come talk to me! This is our university policy on academic integrity:


The LSA undergraduate academic community, like all communities, functions best when its members treat one another with honesty, fairness, respect, and trust. The College holds all members of its community to high standards of scholarship and integrity. To accomplish its mission of providing an optimal educational environment and developing leaders of society, the College promotes the assumption of personal responsibility and integrity and prohibits all forms of academic dishonesty and misconduct. Academic dishonesty may be understood as any action or attempted action that may result in creating an unfair academic advantage for oneself or an unfair academic advantage or disadvantage for any other member or members of the academic community. Conduct, without regard to motive, that violates the academic integrity and ethical standards of the College community cannot be tolerated. The College seeks vigorously to achieve compliance with its community standards of academic integrity. Violations of the standards will not be tolerated and will result in serious consequences and disciplinary action.

You can also read more about the U-M English Department's stance on academic honesty here: A Note on Plagiarism

Course Projects

Course Projects

What a List Wants, What a List Needs


Lists come in many shapes, sizes, and genres. Sometimes, the form shapes the content: a list with wide spaces or logical gaps, for example, invites questions about what is being left out of the conversation. Similarly, numerical lists create a (sometimes artificial) sense of order, while catalogue poems can seem endless, repetitive, and obvious (even when they're doing something really complicated). But can content also shape the form of a list? That is, do certain forms allow particular ideas or feelings to be more easily expressed? Consider literary devices such as enjambment, page layout, wordplay, sound effects (alliteration, consonance, etc), and repetition. What is the relationship between form and content?


Use the prompt here as a starting point to develop your own analytical argument, based on close readings of ONE of the following texts:

  • Ocean Vuong, "

  • Solmaz Sharif, "Lay,” “Safe House,” “Reaching Guantánamo,” "Break-Up," or “Drone” (choose 1-2)

  • Tracy K. Smith, "Declaration," "Ash," , “The Greatest Personal Privation,” or "The United States Welcomes You” (choose 1-2)

  • Widsith

  • The Old English riddles (choose 1-3)

  • Precepts

  • Vainglory

  • Maxims I and II

  • Fates of the Apostles

  • Fortunes of Men

As you develop your argument, put it into conversation with at least one of the secondary sources we have read so far; think about how the ideas you are exploring relate to (for example) Anita Riedinger's discussion of Old English formulae, or Eva von Contzen's theorization of lists. You don't have to do any outside research for this paper, but you should be able to situate your argument within the larger scholarly context of the class.


Your final paper should be 5-7 pages in length; see our Course Policies section for formatting info. And don't hesitate to reach out if you have further questions!

Again and again

Lists are, by nature, repetitive -- but in powerful ways. Tracy K. Smith borrows from the Declaration of Independence, Deor alludes to Germanic legend, and internet memes feed upon themselves. What lists leave out is as important as what they include, and sometimes knowing what's been omitted or excluded is the hardest part! Your final project must consider the repetitive nature of the list, broadly defined. How do particular lists erase, cannibalize, or all attention to past texts and past ideas, transforming the way we see them in the process?

Whether you choose to write a research paper or design a creative project, you will consult regularly with me throughout the semester.


11/8: Project proposals due

11/15: Bibliographies due

12/8: Final projects due

Option 1: Research Paper

If you choose this option, you final project will be an 8-10 page research essay on a topic of your choice. This is your chance to delve deeply into something you find exciting! You must write about at least one of the primary texts we have read in this course; however, you are free to incorporate other primary texts into your argument.


You will have a lot of freedom in the texts you read and the questions you choose to explore. That said, your research should relate to the themes and subject matter of the course. Your final essay must have a strong argumentative thesis, and must prove that thesis through an analytical, evidenced-based argument that uses both original close readings and secondary sources. 

Option 2: Creative Project

If you choose this option, your final project will combine a creative work with a shorter critical analysis. You must choose at least one of the primary texts we have read in class, and design a creative project and commentary based on that text.


Again, you will have a lot of freedom: you can write a series of poems, design a comic, paint a picture, screen print a t-shirt, cross-stitch a pillow, make a collage -- anything you find exciting and inspiring! But whatever you choose to create, your final project must also include a 3-5 page critical analysis of your own creative work, in conversation with at least three secondary sources. Your analysis should show how your creative project complicates or comments on the text you have chosen.

Image by Natalia Y

Weekly Schedule

Week 1: What's in a list?

Monday, 8/30: Introduction to the course

Wednesday, 9/1: Defining the form

Reading: Eva von Contzen, "Theorising Lists" (on Canvas)


Week 2: Omissions, accidents

Monday, 9/6: Labor Day (No class)

Wednesday, 9/8: Widsith and Old English poetry

Required reading: Widsith (on Canvas)

Roberta Frank, "Germanic Legend in Old English Poetry" (on Canvas)

Recommended reading: Dave Wilton, "What Do We Mean When We Say 'Anglo-Saxon'?" (on Canvas); Mary Rambaran-Olm, "Misnaming the Medieval," link here.

Week 3: The well-curated meme

Monday, 9/13: Twitter memes and medieval memory

Required reading: "Absolutely Nobody" meme (on Canvas)

Elizabeth Tyler, "Introduction," from The Aesthetics of the Familiar in Anglo-Saxon England (on Canvas)

Journal reflection #1 due on Canvas

Wednesday, 9/15 (online class): Tiktok (BYO)

Week 4: Love lists

Monday, 9/20: Deconstructing the beloved 

Required reading: Christopher Smart, "Jubilate Agno" (on Canvas)

John Donne, TBD

Wednesday, 9/22: The Taming of the Shrew and 10 Things I Hate About You

Required reading: William Shakespeare, excerpts from The Taming of the Shrew (on Canvas)

Week 5: The unlistable 

Monday, 9/27: Listing absence

Required reading: Solmaz Sharif, “Lay,” “Safe House,” “Reaching Guantánamo,” “Drone” (on Canvas)

Tracy K. Smith, “The Greatest Personal Privation,” “The United States Welcomes You" (on Canvas)

Journal reflection #2 due on Canvas

Wednesday, 9/29: The inexpressibility topos

Required reading: Excerpts from the Vulgate Bible (on Canvas)

The Phoenix (online; link here)

Week 6: Cumulative, accretive, reiterative

Monday, 10/4: Building up meaning

Required reading: Ocean Vuong, TBD

                              Umberto Eco, excerpts from The Infinity of Lists (on Canvas)

Wednesday, 10/6: Breaking down meaning

Required reading: Old English riddles (on Canvas)

 Anita Riedinger, "The Old English Formula in Context" (on Canvas)


Week 7: Loss lists

Monday, 10/11: Fates of the Apostles and Fortunes of Men

Readings: Fates of the Apostles (on Canvas)

 Fortunes of Men (on Canvas)

Journal reflection #3 due on Canvas

Wednesday, 10/13: Contemporary poetry on loss

Readings: Smith, “Watershed” (on Canvas) 

  Sharif, “Break-Up” (on Canvas)

  Vuong, TBD

  Nathan Wasserman, "Appendix: Enumeration in the poetry of Jorge
  Luis Borges and Ted Hughes" (on Canvas)


Week 8: Fall Break + Online Meetings (no class)

Monday, 10/18: Fall Break (no class)

Wednesday, 10/20: Individual meetings (online)


Week 9: Instructional lists (how-to, and why-to-not)

Monday, 10/25: Advice up close

Readings: Precepts (on Canvas)

  Vainglory (on Canvas)

  Patrizia Lendinara, "The World of Anglo-Saxon Learning" (on Canvas)

Close reading essays due 11:59pm on Canvas

Wednesday, 10/27: Advice from afar

Readings: Maxims I and II (on Canvas)

Week 10: Satirical lists

Monday, 11/1: McSweeney's lists

Readings: TBD

Journal reflection #4 due on Canvas

Wednesday, 11/3: The Land of Cockayne (on Canvas; translation here)


Week 11: The end of days (calendrical and eschatological lists)

Monday, 11/8: The course of the year 

Readings: Menologium (online here)

Project proposals due on Canvas

Wednesday, 11/10: The end of the world

Readings: Excerpts from The Final Judgement (Christ III) (on Canvas)

Week 12: The list-as-portrait

Monday, 11/15: "I" and "eye"

Readings: Lyn Hejinian, excerpts from Book of A Thousand Eyes

Bibliographies due on Canvas

Wednesday, 11/17: Pilgrim portraits

Readings: Chaucer, excerpts from the prologue to The Canterbury Tales


Week 13: Thanksgiving break and online presentations

Monday, 11/22: Individual presentations (online class)

Wednesday, 11/24: Thanksgiving Break (No class)

Week 14: Individual presentations

Monday, 11/29: Individual presentations

Journal reflection #5 due on Canvas

Wednesday, 12/1: Individual presentations

Week 15: Final projects and presentations

Monday, 12/6: Individual presentations

Wednesday, 12/8: Wrap-up, course conclusion

Final projects due 11:59pm on Canvas

Weekly Schedule
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