A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

A Profile of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

Synopsis

Seven chronologically arranged essays- each covering roughly a decade from 1908 through 1988- plus two special-focus essays on black and female poets, an introduction by Ed Folsom, and a preface by editors Jack Myers and David Wojahn, outline the critical, creative, aesthetic, and cultural forces at work in the American poetry of this century. Several contributors, including Michael Heller, Richard Jackson, and Jonathan Holden, have recently published important book-length critical studies in their essay area; all have published well-regarded collections of their own poetry.

Excerpt

There is a surprising dearth of comprehensive critical histories on the full course of American poetry. Those that do exist and that are thought of as being definitive either argue their views through a seductive and ultimately forced umbrella thesis by which all products, principles, and practices of American poetry are to be judged, or focus on a relatively few major writers whose force and influence are said to grasp and represent the full sweep of American poetry. the remaining critical histories fall short of capturing the complex flux of our poetry by being too limited in range. What makes matters worse is that since the 1970s there has been an increasing tendency on the part of critics and scholars to abstract poetry from its cultural matrix--at times from meaning and common sense itself--in what seems to be an effort to raise criticism to an overelaborated art form in and of itself; in effect, to pull the very function of criticism further away from the knowledgeable reader's grasp toward an unintelligibility that would make the early reactions to Modernism's perceived obscurity appear mild.

In an effort to help restore an eclectic, comprehensive, and humanistic overview to American poetry, we, as editors, invited writers who are first and foremost working poets to create their own unique models of their assigned periods or topics, models written from their own sense of a cultural, historical, and craft aesthetic, ones which stem directly from their creative work. the only exception in this book, and we gratefully acknowledge it, is our inviting Ed Folsom, an articulate and original Whitman and early American scholar, to create an introductory overview of pre-twentieth-century American poetry, one which, it fortunately turns out, challenges the traditional critical view of that period.

Folsom's revisionist approach, which argues that our literary history be seen as a sort of palimpsest, gradually emerging layers of previously unacknowledged sources of the true American aesthetic and historical experience (in slave songs, Native American chants, the diaries of pioneer . . .

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