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A History of American Poetry

ISBN: 978-1-118-79534-7
542 pages
March 2015, ©2015, Wiley-Blackwell
A History of American Poetry (1118795342) cover image


A History of American Poetry presents a comprehensive exploration of the development of American poetic traditions from their pre-Columbian origins to the present day.

  • Offers a detailed and accessible account of the entire range of American poetry
  • Situates the story of American poetry within crucial social and historical contexts, and places individual poets and poems in the relevant intertextual contexts
  • Explores and interprets American poetry in terms of the international positioning and multicultural character of the United States
  • Provides readers with a means to understand the individual works and personalities that helped to shape one of the most significant bodies of literature of the past few centuries
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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments x

1 The American Poem 1

The United States … the Greatest Poem 1

The Poem is You 8

The Breaking of the New Wood 21

Forging the Uncreated Conscience of the Nation 27

2 Beginnings 39

In My Beginning is My End 39

The word and the Word: Colonial Poetry 44

Towards the Secular: Colonial Poetry 53

Writing Revolution: The Poetry of the Emergent Republic 57

Across the Great Divide: Poetry of the South and the North 63

To Sing the Nation: American Poetic Voices 69

To Sing of Freedom: African American Voices 89

Looking Before and After: Poetic Voices of Region and Nation 91

3 The Turn to the Modern: Imagism, Objectivism, and Some Major Innovators 106

The Revolution is Accomplished 106

The Significance of Imagism 111

From Imagism to Objectivism or Dream 115

From Imagism to the Redemption of History 128

From Imagism to Contact and Community 136

From Imagism to Discovery of the Imagination 141

4 In Search of a Past: The Fugitive Movement and the Major Traditionalists 153

The Precious, the Incommunicable Past 153

The Significance of the Fugitives 157

Traditionalism and the South 160

Traditionalism Outside the South 174

Traditionalism, Skepticism, and Tragedy 179

Traditionalism, Quiet Desperation, and Belief 185

Traditionalism, Inhumanism, and Prophecy 191

5 The Traditions of Whitman: Other Poets from Between the Wars 201

Make this America for Us! 201

Whitman and American Populism 205

Whitman and American Radicalism 211

Whitman, American Identity, and African American Poetry 217

Whitman and American Individualism 224

Whitman and American Experimentalism 232

Whitman and American Mysticism 237

6 Formalists and Confessionals: American Poetry since World War II 250

A Sad Heart at the Supermarket 250

From the Mythological Eye to the Lonely "I": A Progress of American Poetry since the War 253

Varieties of the Personal: The Self as Dream, Landscape, or Confession 258

From Formalism to Freedom: A Progress of American Poetic

Techniques since the War 264

The Imagination of Commitment: A Progress of American

Poetic Themes since the War 270

The Uses of Formalism 274

The Confessional "I" as Primitive 278

The Confessional "I" as Historian 281

The Confessional "I" as Martyr 285

The Confessional "I" as Prophet 289

New Formalists, New Confessionals 292

7 Beats, Prophets, and Aesthetes: American Poetry since World War II 302

Who Am I? 302

Rediscovering the American Voice: The Black Mountain Poets 306

Restoring the American Vision: The San Francisco Poets 316

Recreating American Rhythms: The Beat Poets 323

Resurrecting the American Rebel: African American Poetry 330

Reinventing the American Self: The New York Poets 340

And the Beat Goes On: American Poetry and Virtual Reality 351

8 The Languages of American Poetry and the Language of Crisis: American Poetry into the Twenty-First Century 367

What is the Language of American Literature? 367

The Actuality of Words: The Language Poets 376

The Necessity of Audience: The New Formalists 384

Remapping the Nation: Chicano/a and Latino/a Poetry 395

Improvising America: Asian American Poetry 418

New and Ancient Songs: The Return of the Native American 448

Legends of the Fall: American Poetry and Crisis 476

Epilogue: What Is an American? The Problem of Literary Nationality 509

Index 519

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Author Information

Richard Gray has been Professor or Distinguished Visiting Professor at several universities in the UK and USA, including Essex, Georgia and South Carolina. He is the first specialist in American literature to be elected a Fellow of the British Academy and has published over a dozen books on the topic, including the award-winning Writing the South: Ideas of an American Region (1986) and The Life of William Faulkner: A Critical Biography (1994).
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“In his preface to this work, Richard Gray says that he has “tried to be faithful to the sheer range and plurality of the American poetic tradition,” and much the most impressive feature of this work is the “sheer range” of authors it covers. Extending from Philip Freneau at the end of the eighteenth century to emerging Asian-American poets at the beginning of the twenty-first, this book offers the reader a compendious, almost encyclopaedic range, which treats every facet of American poetry … Gray writes fluently and with stylistic brio about a very large range of American poets, and he manages to convey a strong sense not only of his commitment to this field but also his enjoyment of it.”—Paul Giles, University  of Sydney

“Richard Gray's History of American Poetry has great appeal for both specialized scholars and general readers.  Gray's lucid prose style and sensitive analyses allow us to gain valuable insights into American poetry seen within its historical context.”—Susan Castillo, King’s College London

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