This proseminar examines the changing conceptions of American poetry, poetics, and the art object—broadly conceived—from modernism to postmodernism. In particular, we will test the claim that a range of twentieth-century American poets throughout the twentieth century took seriously the “problems of painters,” as Wallace Stevens puts it. Many poets and painters seemed to ask similar questions: what counts as a poem or a work of art? Is it a thing in the world or a creation of the spectator’s (or the artist’s) mind? Does a poem do more or less than capture a view of the world or a piece of the reality? How do these aesthetic or formal questions relate to social or political concerns? By examining influential American poets from the first half of the twentieth century (Eliot, Stein, Williams, Stevens), through the second half of the century (Hughes, Bishop, Olson, Plath), and onto the present (Cruz, Sphar, Notley), we will study poets’ answers to these questions and formulate our own responses too. In addition to studying some art, literary criticism, and theoretical writing on aesthetics, we will pay close attention to the relationship between poetics and literary theory in the period.