Michael Cohen

CohenI am an associate professor of English at UCLA (my faculty bio is here), where I teach many different types of courses focusing on the transatlantic nineteenth-century, including classes on poetry and poetic theory, the history of American poetry, the history of reading, literary coteries, literature and slavery, as well as survey courses on American literary history and literatures in English of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With my colleague Saree Makdisi I am developing a team-taught course on Whitman and Blake, and in the fall I will teach a seminar on “How to Write a Nineteenth-Century Poem.”

Much of my scholarship seeks to materialize a set of concepts that are more often rendered as abstractions in the study of poetics—most especially genre and reading. My first book, The Social Lives of Poems in Nineteenth-Century America, opens up a set of forgotten histories of the lived relations that people created with poems, and that poems created for people. In this book I seek to demonstrate how a motley set of genres, including popular ballads, antislavery songs, minstrel songs, and slave spirituals, fostered diverse forms of public culture and public action in the nineteenth century, while also generating different orders of powerfully felt relations—senses of national or racial belonging, connections between the living and the dead and the present and the past, as well as intimate relations between and among readers.

My second project, which is a sequel of sorts, is tentatively titled Poetry and the History of Reading, and it tracks a somewhat different kind of history. Here I am more specifically interested in the pedagogical or scholastic history of poetry in the United States from the 1830s to the 1930s. This work brings together the history of reading, the history of schooling, and childhood studies; I am interested in thinking about how poems (or certain kinds of poems) came to be linked to childhood; how poetry came to be a kind of pedagogy or training in literacy; and how poems came to be institutionalized in schools. For centuries, poems have been an interface between the reading and writing of literature, since one way that people have learned to read poetry is by writing it. This archive of amateur literature is what I am seeking to open up to view in this book.

Selected publications on poetry and poetics:

Reading the Nineteenth Century.” American Literary History 26.2 (2014): 406-17.

Alienating Language: A Poet’s Masque.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 23.1 (2014): 75-97.

Peddling Authorship in the Age of Jackson.” ELH 79.2 (2012): 369-88.

“U.S. Poetry: Beginnings to 1900.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th ed. Ed. Stephen Cushman and Roland Greene. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012: 1480-85.