The Literary Salon

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I want to be in America, I want to be in America!

Greetings everyone,
I will be preparing for the not so "pleasant burden" of PhD applications this fall. I am looking into the States, and one needs at least the General GRE for all schools. Most respectable institutions also require the Subject Test GRE, i.e., English Literature GRE.
I must confess that my weakest area is American/20th Century literature. I'm not totally ignorant: I have read the likes of Hawthorne, Twain, Poe (what a writer!), Miller, Tennessee Williams, etc. I thought it wise to at least familiarize myself with some of those writers I have always heard about but never read, especially the poets. I know for a fact that Sylvia Plath, Larkin, and Robert Lowell have been included on the GRE, and I would not at all be surprised if William Carlos Williams, Frost, etc, make their way on there.
My question for you, dear readers, is this: which poets and which poems would you recommend for someone trying to get a grasp of the "greatest hits" of American literature, specifically late 19th-20th century poetry? J, start accessing that mental encyclopedia :)

As a side note, it is interesting to say a few words about the English GRE. Some sources (such as study guides, as useless as they may be) suggest that the Bible and Classical literature is very important for the test. I viewed an actual test from about five years ago, and I can say that the test was devoid of the Bible, and the Classical writers barely showed up (two very easy questions on Virgil. Homer, et al, were not included). No doubt in my mind the test has changed to meet the "needs" of today's typical undergraduate/prospective graduate. For better or worse, I am not one of them. Though I can tell you about obscure 18th century manuals on furniture repair, I am not so good at the "typical" stuff. It also does not help that the test is written by Americans for Americans. I do not want to sound like an NAACP official, but the test is somewhat skewed culturally. In other words, if you went to high school and university ("college" for my American readers, if any) in the States, you will be at an advantage. I do not want to sound plaintive, but in my mind, having a knowledge of, say, Homer and Virgil is more important than a knowledge of, let us say, Wharton (no offense), irrespective of one's specific field of study. Every serious student of literature should have some knowledge of the great classical, Medieval and Renaissance writers.
Oh, by the way, there was one minor question on Shakespeare on the GRE I perused. Even more oddly, Twain, THE American humourist, was ignored.

3 Comments:

Anonymous zelda said...

hey, good luck with grad school applications. stressful stuff! keep us informed!

7:28 AM  
Blogger Dr J said...

Well, RB, rather than enter a huge comment here, I'll just direct you to a post on my blog that used to be a semi-regular email sent out to students at year's end. Here it is.

Also, b/c you'll be writing an American exam, I'd also suggest looking at Anne Bradstreet. When I be back in Tokyoronto I'll give you more work to do. ;-)

9:45 AM  
Anonymous RB said...

Thanks guys.
When are you coming to TO (I've never heard of Tokyoronto :).
Yes, I think I read that post of yours a year ago. I'll take another look.

1:43 PM  

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