In the opening days of my Modern American Poetry class I have been trying to get across three things: 1) What we mean by "modern" in the course title; 2) a sense of Whitman & Dickinson as founders; 3) some basic information about versification, which some of my students have but others don't -- the course has non-majors as well as majors. I think we've been pretty successful so far in accomplishing these goals & today, as a kind of pedagogical surplus, we concluded with a very interesting discussion of Dickinson's ability to portray altered states of consciousness, or consciousness in extremis. And this led to a reflection on the first point above -- we noted that both poets face the problem of the isolated self's relationship to nature & to other people. The insights, which are hardly original, are not so extraordinary as the intensity with which the class seems to be pursuing them. One of my students said that modern poems don't try to make death pretty. I added a little aside about the loss of teleological certainty, which ultimately amounted to restating her point in grander philosophical terms. I do a lot of that. On Wednesday, we take up some poems of E.A. Robinson, the neglected master of the early 20th century American lyric poem (the "epics" stink). In some ways, Robinson is an easier poet; unlike Whitman & Dickinson, his sentences don't require quite the same kind of unknotting.