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A History of American Poetry

Richard Gray

ISBN: 978-1-118-79534-7 March 2015 Wiley-Blackwell 542 Pages


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

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