Out of Bounds: Male Writers and Gender(ed) Criticism

By Laura Claridge; Elizabeth Langland | Go to book overview

The Resentments of Robert Frost

FRANK LENTRICCHIA

BY 1919 Louis Untermeyer -- Robert Frost's most assiduously cultivated (if unwitting) literary operative -- could declare in the opening sentence to the first edition of his soon-to-be influential anthology, Modern American Poetry, that "America's poetic renascence" was more than just a bandied and self-congratulatory phrase of advanced literary culture: "it is a fact."1 And on the basis of that fact or wish (it hardly matters which) Untermeyer and Harcourt Brace made what turned out to be a lucrative wager on the poetry market through seven editions of the anthology, the latter of which entered the university curriculum and stayed there through the 1940s and 1950s, bearing to more than one generation of faculty and students the news of the poetry of modernism and at the same time establishing well into the sixties a list of modernist musts: Frost foremost, together with strong representations of Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Williams, Hart Crane, and a long list of more briefly represented -- and now mostly forgotten -- poets. What Untermeyer had succeeded in presenting in his later editions, against his own literary and social values, was a stylistic texture of modern American poetry so mixed as to defy the force of canonical directive. If the poetry of modernism could include Frost, Stevens, Pound, Marianne Moore, and Langston Hughes, then maybe the phenomenon of modernism embraced a diversity of intentions too heterogeneous to satisfy the tidy needs of historical definition.

But the first edition of Untermeyer's book offered no such collagelike portrait of the emerging scene of modern American poetry: no Eliot, Stevens, or Williams, only a token of Pound and the avant-gardists. Untermeyer's anthology of 1919 was in fact heavily studded with names that had appeared a few years earlier in the anthology of his chief genteel competitor, Jessie Belle Rittenhouse's Little Book of Modern Verse ( 1912) -- including the name of Rittenhouse herself. The economic interests of Untermeyer and his publisher, as Untermeyer would acknowledge years later, ensured that his declaration of the new be accompanied not by an avant-garde act of rupture but by a conciliating act that veiled his differences with the popular

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