The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry

The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry

The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry

The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry

Synopsis

Intended as a concise but thorough introduction to the various movements of twentieth century American poets, this book will help readers understand and analyze modern and contemporary poems. It covers the work of major modernists such as Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore, as well as the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, the New Critics, the Confessionals, and the Beats.

Excerpt

A century is a considerable period of time in the development of any literary genre. This is especially true in the case of American poetry, which began the twentieth century as an enervated literary exercise and ended it as a vital form of cultural expression. American poets of the twentieth century pushed the limits of poetic composition, asking fundamental questions about what poetry is and how it should be written. Is poetry the product of an interaction between the real world and the artistic imagination? Or is it a self-contained artistic object with little relevance to the world outside its borders? Is the poem an intimate speech act linking poet and reader in a private encounter? Or can poetry contribute to new forms of social and political awareness?

This book will address such questions in an attempt to provide a better understanding of the poems, poets, and poetic movements of the last hundred years. The primary focus of the book is on the close reading of individual poems. These readings should provide keys to the understanding of each poet's work; at the same time, they should serve as examples of poetic explication and interpretation that can help the reader to articulate his or her own responses to poetry in general. The discussion of selected poems in each chapter will be supplemented by a presentation of the cultural, sociological, and intellectual contexts of twentieth-century American poetry.

As the twentieth century began, poetry was greatly overshadowed by the novel. During the period from the end of the Civil War until World War I, the United States experienced explosive population growth and a powerfully expanding economy. As a result, the nation was focused on pragmatic matters that absorbed its immediate attention: American society had little energy to devote to the cultivation of poetry, which was often relegated to the status of a “genteel” pastime with little relevance to modern-day life. The so-called “Age of Realism” (1870–1910) was a high point in the development of the American novel; American poetry, on the other hand, lingered in the twilight of the late nineteenth century, unable to enter the modern world or break with the conventional formulas and sentimental diction of earlier decades.

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