This book is one of the series Blackwell Guides to Literature, and consistent with the design of that series is intended both as a guide to the independent reader who wishes for an introduction to the major writers, texts, and issues of twentieth-century American poetry, and also for graduate students and upper-level undergraduates taking courses that focus upon this subject area. The book should also be helpful to students studying twentieth-century American literature, as well as modern or contemporary poetry in English.
After reading this book the reader will be aware of the major figures in twentieth-century American poetry and some of its central texts - as well as some of the issues behind canon formation, the impact of modernism upon American poetry, and the split between the international modernism of a writer like H.D. and the aggressively nativist version of a writer such as William Carlos Williams. The reader will be acquainted with the influence of T. S. Eliot's poetry and criticism in the decades leading up to the middle of the century, of the various kinds of rebellion against its principles in the 1950s, of the formalist response in turn to that rebellion, and of the relatively recent prominence of feminist, multi-cultural, and Native American poetry.
As the reader will see from the contents page, the information within the book is organized in a number of ways. A chronology sets out the major social, political, and literary events of the century as they provide a broad context for the poetry. In the introduction I set out the thinking behind the choice of writers and texts for individual essays, and introduce the themes that are the subject of the longer essays in the subsequent section. Before the individual essays on writers and texts begin, a more focused history follows the introduction. This history treats the broad developments in the century's American poetry - from the dominance of New England and the east coast academies at the turn of the century, to the major strands and multiple voices of American poetry 100 years later. The reader who has little familiarity with the subject would do best starting with this general essay.
The individual essays on writers and texts can be read as two perspectives upon the same story. The reader may choose to switch between individual writers and texts, to juxtapose larger groupings based upon chronology or such categories as modernism, formalism, or other shared concerns, or to read each section as a separate narrative. Not all writers who are the subject of individual essays are represented by an essay in the section on texts. Further discussion of the relationship between the two sections can be found in the introduction.
The essays that follow the sections on writers and texts take up more specialized topics: the broad impact of the other arts on poetry, versions of the long poem, the complexities of nationality and continuity, poetry and war, and canon formation as it has been impacted by the century's anthologies. These essays are designed for a reader already familiar with the general subject of the volume, but may be read as individual, self-contained introductions to their topics.
Finally, the guide to further reading is designed to point the way to further discussion of a century of writing which this one volume cannot hope to fully represent, but about which - if this book has achieved one of its primary aims - the reader will wish to know more.
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