course
Victorian Poetry

Apr 2020

While having all of the qualifications and academic praise that often render professors standoffish, arrogant, and disinterested, Erik Gray is anything but that. He is such a lovely person who is dedicated to his students and will gladly meet with you outside of class to answer any of your questions. It is obvious when you meet with him that he actually enjoys talking with you about poetry and wants students to come. His lectures are extremely insightful and it is evident that he has spent hundreds of hours pouring over these poems and mastering them. He is one of the leading figures in Victorian poetry (when I was poking around for journal articles on the subject for inspiration for my essay, his article appeared first on jstor). A great guy. An amazing academic.

Feb 2017

Professor Gray has profound insight into poetry. He communicates that insight in lectures which are fascinating, illuminating, and beautifully crafted. Each point is elucidated clearly and flows logically out of the previous point and into the next point, so that the listener is transported by the argument. By the end of the lecture, a poem or poems have been unfolded for the listener, made more accessible, more meaningful, and more deeply moving. Many people stand outside the door of the world of poetry, wishing to cross the threshold but unable to do so without guidance; Professor Gray opens the door and invites his students to enter. Professor Gray’s lectures are a work of art. To listen is to be moved.

Aug 2013

I don't love poetry but do love Erik Gray and I have mixed feelings about the course. On the one hand, the lectures were incredible. Gray is a great lecturer and knows his shit about poetry, so lectures were smooth, well-organized, and I felt like I really got a sense of each poet's style/focuses. I can't sing enough praises about Gray, and that alone is making me seriously consider taking Romantic Poetry the next time he teaches it. I've written a previous review on Gray for a different class espousing the virtues of his lecturing, so I don't want anyone to think I don't like him or that this is a negative review. That said, there are a couple things that didn't quite work for me with this course. (1) I generally prefer more interactive courses. Sometimes I had trouble concentrating on the lecture, especially since even though Gray sounds wonderful reading poetry, I still don't really understand it. (which brings me to...) (2) As I said I don't love poetry. I find it pretty hard to understand, and I think the idea that poems can be "interpreted however you want" or whatever is pretty bullshit but at the same time find it pretty difficult to figure out what the poet is really getting at. Gray's lectures do a great job of illuminating the poetry and connecting a poet's different works. But there's no way I could really do that on my own, nor am I taught to (this is strictly a poetry class in that you read poetry and you learn about those poets and works, it doesn't cover at all poetry analysis, nor did I expect it to). Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but this made the final harder because we were supposed to bring our own analysis of the poetry (this makes a lot of sense for papers imo, but in a timed setting I just didn't have the time to pore over the text). (3) I thought the discussions weren't that beneficial. I wish I hadn't taken one. At the beginning of the semester you get a choice of signing up for a section or taking a midterm, and I thought the section would be more fun and more insightful. The section was OK, but I didn't feel like I was learning more than I had in lecture, a lot of times I felt like we were just re-covering stuff already said. The discussion posts (required, every other week for our section, half the class switched off each week) felt like they were written for the sake of it, and I never bothered reading other people's posts nor were we encouraged to. I guess that's a lot of discussion sections' posts, but it just felt like a waste of time. The TAs seemed pretty cool but that doesn't mean the discussion sections were helpful, and the final review they did was a complete waste of time. Now all this would be fine, except... (4) I felt that the grading was pretty arbitrary. I got a much lower grade than I was expecting -- it's understandable to get a low(er) grade but I felt blindsided by it, like somehow I wasn't aware I wasn't performing well the entire semester. I spoke a decent amount in discussion considering it was only 50 minutes, and always kept up with the posts/made deadlines/etc. I'm sure it wasn't meant to be a grade booster but still ... I think taking a midterm could possibly have served me better. Same goes for the final ... I studied my ass off for the exam because a big portion of it was IDs and IDing poetry, a lot of which sounds fairly similar if you don't know each poet's nuances, and I'm fairly certain I got all of them right, and that my explications/essays were decent, for a 3-hour exam that I could have definitely used an extra half hour or hour on. Case in point: my friend who was pass/failing the class, skipped lectures regularly, and did most of the reading during reading week got the same grade I did. I'm obviously bitter (so you should take this review with a grain of salt), but I still don't have a clear idea of how I could have done better in the class. I'd still recommend this course for anyone interested in the material (the lectures are pretty phenomenal), but maybe PDF it or skip the discussion b/c Gray doesn't seem to have a great track record of TAs (the other class I took with him, the TAs were awful). Also a word of advice, the IDs on the final were mainly from lecture so make sure to note every passage Gray discusses. Otherwise when you're studying for the final you won't even know where to begin with IDs.

Sep 2010

I worked hard and found it impossible to earn above a B+ on anything and the TA did all my grading, writing incomprehensible comments. However, the class is well worth it, because Erik Gray is a fantastic lecturer and Victorian Poetry, while mostly uninteresting, has some priceless gems worth treasuring. I was inspired to "write" the following, after my friend Stephen urged me to take the class: --------------------------------------------------------------- My first thought was, he lied in every word, That junior Stephen, with malicious eye At his counsel, should I turn aside Into that ominous class which, all agree, Hides the Gray Tower. Yet acquiescingly I registered as he suggested For, what with my Universe-ity-wide wandering, What with my search drawn out thro' weeks, my hope Dwindled into a ghost As when a sick man very near to finals Seems learnéd indeed, and feels begin and end The tears, takes farewell of each class friend. While some discuss if near the other tests Be schedule enough for this, and when a day Suits best for quaffing th’ adderall away, I had so long suffered in this quest, And all the doubt was now---would it be meet? So, quiet as despair, I turned from him, That fateful Blair, into the class he pointed, with his two fateful Gray tomes he’d lent my only vim. But no sooner was I fairly found Pledged to the plan, after a month or two, Such starved ignoble TAing! nothing throve: For sense---as well expect a borogove! You'd think; a written comment’d been a treasure-trove. No! penury, inertness and grimace, In some strange sort, were the TA’s portion. ``What “work does your metaphor do,'' wrote he peevishly, ``Synthesizing your close readings into a tightly constructed: ``argument is your next task!” But suddently, there they stood, ranged along the desks, To view the last of him, a living frame For one more picture! in a sheet of flame Dauntless the final exam to my pen I set, And wrote, "Childe Chou to the Gray Tower came.''

Jun 2010

Just wanted to add to what most other reviews have said. Professor Gray is an absolutely fantastic lecturer, genuinely funny in a very nerdy/academic way, and is really cool in office hours. I get the feeling he grades fairly harshly on writing. However, it helps to pay a lot of attention to his style of analysis early on in the course (first two or three classes), and try to start looking at the poems that way, with really close attention to detail, repeated sounds, syntax, etc. I mean, that's expected in every poetry class, I suppose, but Professor Gray seems to put particular emphasis on finding the meaning in very specific, somewhat technical details. That's not the only way to get a good grade, but it definitely helps. Class is always worthwhile, but that's not the only reason to go; a good amount of the points on the final are basically "did you show up to class" points. I believe on both the midterm and the final, each of the passage IDs come from one of the passages we spent a significant amount of time on in class. So while you will have to study, as long as you take good notes, it shouldn't be too hard to remember the poems, and say some basic things about how the passage relates to the themes of the poem and of the poet. Really, Professor Gray covers everything you need for a full score on a passage ID in class, and the passage ID part is largely a test to see if you showed up and you remember the general themes of what Prof. Gray said in class. So, yeah, if you like poetry, there's basically no reason to not take this class, unless you really, really, really hate all of the Victorians... and even still, you might want to come to the first couple of lectures to see if Erik Gray can change your mind.

May 2010

Do you love poetry? I mean, do you really get-off on it? Because if you don't, you should slap yourself right now for even looking up this class. Everyone else is correct, Erik Grey is a quirky, funny, engaging lecturer, and he cares about his students-- but while you can feel good until you are blue in the face, it won't stop you from getting hammered come grading time. Don't bother reading further unless either A) You really don't know much about poetry but the class sounds interesting, or B) You feel some misguided need to defend Erik Gray and Victorian Poetry from the silly rantings of a philistine, in which case, you know which orifice you can jam your protest in. There are a million reviews that give VP and Grey a post-final handy, so somebody had to be the bad guy. This is for the A group. (For the record, I am a Poli-Sci major, ordinarily I receive grades in the A/B+ range, not familiar with poetry, and I'm not an overachiever. I took this class because it came highly recommended as an "amazing" class by what I thought was a friend, but who must have been a sadist.) I felt robbed for my experience, and here is why: Instead of enjoying the material, I could only focus on the fact that nothing I produced bested a 79 in a curve-less course. The papers were graded arbitrarily, I am wholly convinced. A friend who is an English major, and ordinarily earns A-/A grades, and who spent most of the term telling me that I was the problem and not the class, found himself staring at low 80s, and couldn't figure out why. As for the exams, they consisted of identifying 150yo texts of which you were asked to determine title and author from about 4-8 lines of text. You can explicate all you want that you believe that it is a certain poem, by a certain poet, with certain meaning, but if you get the title and author wrong, you are done. 0 points. 0. That's not to say that if you are really into this stuff that you can't do well. Indeed, several students pulled down A range grades. They were the ones that sat in class, transfixed, nodding their heads in a Southern Baptist, "You Tell 'em, Preacher!" manner while listening to a lecture about what a 100 years-dead man felt about his ugly wife (seriously, have you googled Barret Browning? That alone should discredit the genre.) Now, before anyone gets their Victorian chastity-panties in a bunch, let me be the first to admit the following: I'm mad because I got a poor grade, not because the class is terrible. HOWEVER, if you aren't a poetry fanatic, and you are thinking of taking this course because,"It looks interesting," consider yourself fully briefed by someone who was once like you, but is now a shell of a man who thrives on modernity and hates the past.

May 2010

A highly entertaining lecturer. What you would expect from an English course: readings, two essays, midterms and finals. Not too hard to get a B/B+, but you have to be really comfortable with essays to get that A. If you come to class and take notes, you will do fine. If you are the type to skip class, beware. Exams rely a lot on what was gone over in lecture. One last caveat - he lectures almost the whole time, generally leaving only the last 10 minutes for questions, so this is not a very interactive class. However, he does care about the students, and if you take the time to go to his office hours or tend to ask questions, he will get to know you and remember your name.

Jan 2010

He's super nice and dorky but the class is definitely a bit odd. Even though nothing is graded, everyone can't get A's so the A/A- distinction seems to be completely arbitrary. So if you do all the work you have a 50/50 chance of getting an A. Material is pretty interesting and class consists of in class discussions on readings most people don't do. I'd recommend this class for non english people needing to fulfill a requirement/english people wanting a GPA boost. All you do is weekly posts about ANYTHING victorian pretty much, even though most people base it on readings and an in class presentation with some people and a final project of sorts, none of which are graded.

Nov 2009

Erik Gray is a consummate lecture-based teacher. He's phenomenal at it, and he infuses his talks with so much enthusiasm that it is pretty much impossible not to get excited about the material he's teaching you. I took Romantic Poetry and Victorian Poetry with him and only skipped lectures in cases of true emergencies. For one, they were the highlight of my day, so it never felt like a hassle to come to class. I left every class with a smile on my face. For another, they were the entire basis of the midterm and the final. He literally gave us the important passages from the readings and told us everything we needed to know about them in order to write good IDs on the tests. This was great when my workload was bad and I couldn't do the reading. I just showed up for lecture, got his cliff notes versions, and was set. However, if I missed a class, I had to scramble to get someone else's notes or else I went into the tests feeling really unprepared to write on the material I'd missed. So be ready to go to class, pay attention, and take good notes. Luckily, his lectures are so fun, interesting, and engaging that this is a really easy thing to do. He reserves some time at the end of each class for discussion, but it always felt like a let-down after his brilliant commentary. However, he really encourages original analysis in his papers, so it's a good idea to throw your ideas out there just to see if your thoughts surprise him or get a good reaction. That's usually a sign that you've stumbled onto a good paper topic. Overall, Professor Grey is a brilliant English professor, and what he taught me about analyzing poetry has had tons of crossover value in my other English classes. I'd recommend his classes to even the most wary of poetry readers.

Sep 2009

I loved this class. Erik gave the clearest, most organized lectures ever and they were truly insightful and engaging. This course challenged me while still being enjoyable and without assigning a completely overwhelming workload (which basically means it was perfect). I think it's also taught in a way that's accessible to non English majors as it doesn't require or assume a background in literary criticism and theory. My one complaint is that the mini-discussion at the end of each class (only 10 minutes) was often stilted, but that's a minor issue. Take it! You'll be glad you did.

May 2009

Phenomenal professor. He's brilliant but doesn't rub it in your face. Though he reads his lectures out loud, he's terrific at it and always brings in a little humor. The lectures are insightful, well-organized, and coherent. It's clear that he put a lot of thought into structuring the class the way he did because the lectures themselves follow a very logical order, and when reviewing the material, you can clearly see how major themes evolved over time. And he really does have the perfect academic sense of humor. It's sometimes a little corny but always adorably so. He allows a lot of freedom on the papers. He provides many different paper topics for each paper but encourages you to use them as starting points. You can always do something totally different. The exams (midterm and final) are incredibly fair as long as you attend the lectures, since all the IDs come from class material (but you'll rarely be tempted to skip because, again, he's a phenomenal lecturer). And even though this is a lecture, he always leaves time at the end for questions and comments. Sometimes it gets a little awkward when no one has anything to say, but no one's ever pressured into saying anything. I imagine that Romantic Poetry is just as good, but I'm glad I took Victorian Poetry first because it's half the size of Romantic Poetry. Do yourself a favor and take a class with him. You won't regret it.

Apr 2008

Erik Gray is an unbelievable professor. He is articulate, passionate about the material, creative, and, in a word, excellent. He has a fantastic academic sense of humor, he is slightly self-deprecating, and very approachable. He made Victorian Poetry interesting and exciting. Take any class with him.

Jan 2007

Professor Sharpe is an engaging professor who can make just about anything interesting. The only thing he cares about is ensuring that his students gain something from the class, rather than critically judging what students have to say. In fact, you are responsible for giving yourself a grade at the end of the course. If you can, definitely take a course with this professor.

Apr 2003

While Sharpe oozes enthusiasm for poetry, he doesnt exactly ooze ability. He'll spout some interesting facts and make connections to other pieces of literature, but he is seriously limited in his ability to talk about the interesting things going on in a poem. And he's even worse at fostering discussion. You'll leave every class wondering why he only skims the poems' surface and marvel at his complete disinterest in what the students have to say. All in all, probably the worst English professor I've had in my 4 years here.