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In the last 20 years of the century the presence of contemporary poets and poetry in the universities became even more visible, with creative writing programs offering faculty positions for poets, and the development of an extensive poetry-reading circuit. The prevailing style in mainstream poetry journals and graduate creative writing programs was the neo-confessional personal lyric, usually in free verse. Another prominent group of American poets, the new formalists, argued for a return to meter and rhyme as part of what it saw as a return to craft and discipline in writing, and the movement brought some English and American poets together under at least one banner, another being the common interests of poets writing on postcolonial themes.

A more radical group of poets developed around the journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E; they saw themselves as the inheritors of a line from high modernism through objectivism, the Black Mountain poets, and poststructuralist critical theory. For the Language poets, the concept of the self was not a coherent basis upon which to center the voice and meaning of a poem, but only an ideological construction, created solely by language, and a construction which should be taken apart and exposed by a poetry that foregrounds its own status as an artefact composed of words. In the poetry of such writers as Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman, and Susan Howe, discourse is not rational and linear, but jagged, elliptical, and a reminder always to the reader of the poem's construction, and of the act of the reader in responding to it. Even the Language poets have been assimilated by the academy, the State University at Buffalo being an important center for their writing and teaching.

The most visible development in American poetry by the end of the century was the explosion of writing in English from various ethnic groups, sometimes immigrant writers and sometimes the children of immigrants.

American poetry thus began more fully to represent the country's diverse ethnic and immigrant population. Trends in literary and cultural criticism raised awareness of ethnic literatures and contributed to the increased attention to and support of ethnic writing in the academy - where the prevailing style of the personal lyric was particularly suited to the work of poets writing of their ethnic origins.

In broadening their concept of what "literary study" entails, English departments have re-evaluated what constitutes and constituted "American literature." Within the different ethnic groups themselves - the most prominent being the Chicano and Chicana writers of Mexican origin in the south-west, and Asian American writing that emerged from the immigration following the Vietnam War and the rise of the South-East Asian economies - there is great diversity, as different poets use different elements from their native traditions. A common theme, however, is a sense of cultural displacement or fragmented identity within the pressures of the dominant culture. This theme is also central to the Native American verse that was also finding its voice more and more by the end of the decade, in the writing of such poets as Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Joy Harjo, and of course displacement had for some decades been a major theme of African American writing.

While many ethnic poets may view the mainstream culture as monolithic, American poetry by the end of the century was anything but. The very trends that contribute to what for many poets is the oppressive power of that culture, including the global reach of its multi-national corporations, technology, rhetoric, and media, have heightened such poets' awareness of the distinctive features of their own origins. The threat of homogenization through what is seen as the imperialist and military ethic of the dominant culture has reopened the debate about poetry and politics, figured in the work of a poet like Carolyn Forché. The result, the assertion by poets of the distinctive features of a particular culture and its accompanying traditions, and the insistence upon what would be lost by its dying, has brought a rich diversity and a powerful set of voices to contemporary American poetry. These voices, along with the others outlined above, sometimes complementing one another and sometimes in opposition, together hold the promise of multiple and fruitful directions for American poetry in the new century.


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