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How Did Poetry Survive?

How Did Poetry Survive?: The Making of Modern American Verse

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    How Did Poetry Survive?
    Book Description:

    How Did Poetry Survive? traces the emergence of modern American poetry at the turn of the nineteenth century. American poetry had stalled: a small group of recently deceased New England poets still held sway, and few outlets existed for living poets. However, the United States' quickly accelerating urbanization in the early twentieth century opened new opportunities, as it allowed the rise of publications focused on promoting the work of living writers of all kinds. The urban scene also influenced the work of poets, shifting away from traditional subjects and forms to reflect the rise of buildings and the increasingly busy bustle of the city. Change was everywhere: new forms of architecture and transportation, new immigrants, new professions, new tastes, new worries. This urbanized world called for a new poetry, and a group of new magazines entirely or chiefly devoted to exploring modern themes and forms led the way. Avant-garde little magazines succeeded not by ignoring or rejecting the busy commercial world that surrounded them, but by adapting its technologies of production and strategies of marketing for their own purposes. With a particular focus on four literary magazines-- Poetry, The Masses, Others, and The Seven Arts --John Timberman Newcomb shows how each advanced ambitious agendas combining urban subjects, stylistic experimentation, and progressive social ideals. All four were profoundly affected by World War I, and the poetry on their pages responded to the war and its causes with clarity and strength. While subsequent literary history has favored the poets whose work made them distinct--individuals singled out usually on the basis of a novel technique--Newcomb provides a denser, richer view of the history that hundreds of poets made.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09390-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: A Modernism of the City
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 1850 poetry was the central genre of American literary culture. Fifty years later it was widely viewed as a mawkish refuge for dilettantes and sentimentalists. Its powers had been circumscribed by genteel custodians bent upon protecting it from the sullying forces of modern life: urbanization, organized labor, commodity culture. For several decades, cultural workers in other fields had been building the institutional and professional networks that still largely govern them today: prizes, fellowships, and commissions; academic units, disciplinary protocols, and credentialing bodies; wildly successful systems of mass marketing for popular genres including pulp fiction, song, and cinema. All the...


    • CHAPTER 1 American Poetry on the Brink, 1905–12
      (pp. 9-25)

      The status of poetry in the United States hit bottom between 1900 and 1905. Commentaries during these years routinely assumed that the art was in precipitous decline, and many questioned its very survival.¹ The genteel custodians of the nation’s literary culture clung desperately to poetry as an anticommodity, something ostensibly above the frantic getting and spending of modern life. In this climate, any step toward organizing, professionalizing, or remunerating poets was likely to be disdained as degradation of a noble art. Thus in the early 1900s no one assumed sustained responsibility for the publicizing and reviewing of new books of...

    • CHAPTER 2 Poetry’s Opening Door: Harriet Monroe and American Modernism
      (pp. 26-53)

      Among the most familiar yet misunderstood moments of twentieth-century American literary history is the founding of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in Chicago in 1912 by Harriet Monroe. Poetry has long been noted for its publication of nearly every key figure in Anglo-American verse of the period. But by focusing on the question of the magazine’s openness or resistance to poets later viewed as important to high modernism, historians have misread its greatest importance, which was simply to create a space for contemporary American verse where none had been.

      Poetry exemplifies the productive intersection between twentieth-century artistic avant-gardes and the...

    • CHAPTER 3 Young, Blithe, and Whimsical: The Avant-Gardism of The Masses
      (pp. 54-78)

      Between 1913 and 1917, several other little magazines enriched the New Verse movement by joining and competing with Poetry as vigorous venues of contemporary American poetry. The discussions of The Masses in this chapter and Others in the next aim to challenge the conceptual model dominating histories of modern American poetry from the 1940s, in which political and aesthetic radicalism are seen as mutually exclusive responses to twentieth-century modernity. In this binarized model, The Masses, putting ideology above artistry, placed itself beyond the pale of true modernism, while Others, sublimating its dissidence into formal experimentation, became important through its prescient...

    • CHAPTER 4 There Is Always Others: Experimental Verse and “Ulterior Social Result”
      (pp. 79-117)

      If The Masses was written out of the history of twentieth-century American poetry, Others, published in New Jersey, New York, and Chicago between July 1915 and July 1919 by Alfred Kreymborg and various friends, was written into it in a peculiarly narrow way that underestimates the magazine’s range and misrepresents its goals. The circulation of Others never much exceeded five hundred, yet its roster of contributors features a remarkable proportion of poets who later became canonical, including Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Williams, and Moore in its first six issues.¹ A single issue—the “Competitive Number,” edited by Williams in July 1916—...

    • CHAPTER 5 Volunteers of America, 1917: The Seven Arts and the Great War
      (pp. 118-144)

      In contrast to Poetry, celebrating its centennial in 2012, the Seven Arts lasted only twelve tumultuous issues between November 1916 and October 1917. Yet perhaps even more than Poetry and The Masses, the Seven Arts challenges conventional views of the modernist little magazine as a fugitive publication whose amateur status redeems it from the capitalist marketplace, making it a haven for formally experimental work. Based in Manhattan, the Seven Arts enjoyed substantial financial backing, found a broad audience, proposed an ambitious synthesis of genres into an integrated national culture, and sought to impact American politics at the highest level. Yet...


    • CHAPTER 6 Gutter and Skyline: The New Verse and the Metropolitan Cityscape
      (pp. 147-179)

      So far, my narrative of the New Verse movement has focused on the little magazine as the discursive innovation that catalyzed the dramatic change in American poetry’s fortunes after 1912. The three remaining chapters complement this institutional history with an interpretive history, focusing on the struggle of American writers between 1910 and 1925 to fulfill the little magazines’ call for a poetry of modern life by casting off long-standing generic strictures of style and subject matter and immersing their work in the industrialized metropolis. Soon after 1910, an astonishing range of poets—William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, Joyce Kilmer,...

    • CHAPTER 7 Footprints of the Twentieth Century: American Skyscrapers, Modern Poems
      (pp. 180-216)

      The most potent icons of modernity in the early twentieth-century city were great buildings, structures of unprecedented scale and grandeur that punctuated the skyline and symbolized the metropolitan ethos. Unlike the grandest structures of the Gilded Age, which were mainly private houses for the super-rich, the iconic buildings after 1900 were venues for business, transport, or amusement—public not necessarily in ownership but in function and spatial accessibility, designed to accommodate a large number and variety of occupants, both permanent and transient. Twentieth-century analogues to the small-town churches and schoolhouses around which the lives of most Americans had once revolved,...

    • CHAPTER 8 Subway Fare: Toward a Poetics of Rapid Transit
      (pp. 217-262)

      Wishful civic boosters of the early twentieth century discerned signs of financial utopia in the “symbiotic relation” between the skyscraper and the urban railway, which they saw as the source not only of the American city’s spectacular skyline but of “its constantly rising real estate values.”¹ More than one early commentator imagined this symbiosis through an axis of unlimited spatial accessibility and freedom of movement, interchangeably horizontal and vertical. In this view, skyscrapers were understood as “street railways running perpendicularly,” turning the air into new capital just as expanding networks of rapid transit were modernizing the regions surrounding the city,...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 263-302)
    (pp. 303-326)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 327-338)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-341)