Pound, writing from England, had urged Williams to acquaint himself with the London writers in order to modernize himself. The letter, and the reading list that accompanied Pound's advice, were part of his tireless attempts to bring news of the London avant-garde to his home country, which he saw as hopelessly provincial. But in the years leading up to the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, in the war years themselves, and in the decade that followed, the United States increasingly became more integrated politically, economically, and artistically into world, and particularly European, concerns. In addition, the growing wealth of the United States helped to produce more publishing outlets for poetry, a greater readership for the volumes produced, a growing university system, an economic environment of opportunity for foreign writers and artists to visit or settle, and the economic means for more and more American writers and artists to travel and live abroad.
The isolation of American poets also began to be mitigated by movements in various urban centers that challenged - or ignored - the New England and New York establishment. These centers fostered cheaply produced or subsidized "little magazines" that published modern writing, and, through an act as simple as sending in a subscription, a writer could read the work and - as was often the case - travel to the city to join the group.
The two most important centers to emerge were in Chicago and a revitalized New York, although there were important movements in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Philadelphia too. In Chicago Carl Sandburg applied what he learned from Whitman to celebrate the commercial activities and ruthlessness at the heart of the city's wealth, bringing a prosaic directness and concreteness into modern poetry. When a writer such as Sherwood Anderson looked for an alternative to the business world of Ohio he looked to Chicago, and, adding to what was quickly becoming a recognizable regional literature, published a volume of somewhat forgettable
Whitmanesque lyrics, although a few years later he became much better known for his prose volume Winesburg, Ohio. Out of the Chicago avantgarde emerged two important "little magazines," non-commercial, low-paying, limited circulation, and committed to printing modern writing. Poetry, the first of these, was started by Harriet Monroe, whose own poetry was not particularly modern. But she published the work not only of the Chicago poets, but of Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and other east coast writers too, and, with Ezra Pound sending in manuscripts from London, she also published Pound, H.D., Yeats, and early poems by T. S. Eliot. Poetry appeared regularly every month - and still does; the poets were actually paid for their contributions thanks to a group of wealthy sponsors gathered through Monroe's social contacts. The magazine also offered a series of prizes annually. Poetry retained for a few years a certain stuffiness that finally alienated Pound, and that led Williams to complain that if Monroe continued to print the first letter of each of his lines in upper case against his will he would send in no more poems; but its existence was central in putting poets in touch with one another and in bringing American poetry on to the international scene.
The other magazine to come out of the Chicago Renaissance was a more intermittent, ragged, and radical affair, The Little Review, published by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap. With such journals as Poetry and The Little Review, Monroe and Anderson redefined the role of the salon hostess that had been satirized in Pound's poem "Portrait d'une Femme" and took it into the twentieth century. The Little Review took more chances than Poetry, and Pound eventually shifted his support and contacts to Anderson's journal. Along with publishing the Chicago writers and modernist poets, Anderson published the early chapters of James Joyce's Ulysses as they became ready for print, and thus ran into legal troubles for publishing what the authorities deemed obscene. For one issue subscribers received a magazine consisting almost entirely of blank pages, with a complaint by Anderson that submissions were inadequate for the kind of radical work that she wanted to publish. Like The Egoist in London, which at different times boasted H.D. and T. S. Eliot as associate editors, The Little Review had a parallel agenda of promoting greater political and moral freedoms for women (denied the vote until 1920 in the US). The Little Review followed its editors to New York, and subsequently to Paris, its location almost a barometer of where avant-garde activity was most centered. And its final issue in 1929 also mirrored the end, with the Wall Street crash, of the financial well-being that had allowed such journals to survive.
A thriving avant-garde movement began towards the end of the century's first decade in New York City, one important focus of which were the painters and photographers centered around the work of Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz's 291 Gallery brought the work of the Paris impressionists and cubists to New York, and encouraged such American first-generation modernist painters as John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, and Georgia O'Keefe. Writers mixed with visual artists at 291, and also in the salons of wealthy patrons such as Walter Arensberg and Mabel Dodge. Many American modernist poets looked to the radical activity of the painters, sculptors, and photographers for direction rather than to the previous generation of poets. A high-profile culmination of this activity was the 1913 Armory Show, which gathered together in New York the paintings of such artists as Gauguin, Matisse, Cézanne, and Duchamp. So much did this exhibition become in retrospect a foundation event in American modernism that William Carlos Williams convinced himself in a number of interviews years later that he had attended, although his wife was sure that he was recalling a later exhibition.
With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, a number of European painters retreated to New York, supported by such patrons as Arensberg. Thus New York itself became a center for international avant-garde activities. Two of the most important artists to turn up in New York were Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. Duchamp's "ready-mades," such as his snow shovel and his urinal "sculptures," challenged the authority of viewer-imposed conventions upon the artist's activities, insisting that the qualities of what could be called "art" rested solely on the authority of the artist. Such prefabricated objects also challenged other Romantic assumptions about the relationship of the artist to his or her material, particularly the Romantic foregrounding of originality and emotional expression. Arensberg purchased from Duchamp a photographic reproduction of his painting Nude Descending a Staircase. The original had been a sensation of the Armory Show. Duchamp painted over the photograph, had it framed, and it took its place in Arensberg's collection. In addition to the general ethos of creative rebellion produced by such gestures, Duchamp's "ready-mades" - and Picabia's machine-like drawings - promised an industrial-based art particularly suited to the artists of what had become the world's foremost industrial economy. Such iconoclastic gestures signaled the irrelevance of the prestigious European heritage of past achievements, and emphasized instead the primacy of subject matter not connected to historic themes, places, or narratives.
Imagism, developed initially in the pages of Poetry and The Egoist, and demonstrated in the poetry of Pound and H.D. among others, had a similar appeal to a number of American poets. Its emphasis upon non-traditional rhythms, the primacy of the moment, free verse, and economy of expression also made the legacy of English verse largely irrelevant. The manifestos of imagism invoked modern painting as a parallel. Here was a sanction for
American poetry to take its own direction, and imagism had much more of an impact upon subsequent American poetry than upon verse in England.
The various art exhibitions that accompanied New York's emergence as an avant-garde center produced their own short-lived little magazines, and there was often room for poetry. One of the most important literary magazines in these years was Others, which originated out of the activities of an artists' colony in Grantwood, New Jersey, just across the Hudson from Manhattan, and which was at one point financed by Arensberg. Behind the magazine were such figures as painter and photographer Man Ray, and poets William Carlos Williams and Alfred Kreymborg. The tireless Pound sent over a sheaf of imagist poems for the journal to publish. Others set itself up as an alternative and complement to Chicago's Poetry. It carried more belligerent manifestos than its Chicago rival, appeared more erratically, and was much less well funded. In its pages appeared early work by Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore.
The end of the war in 1918 left western Europe in a financial quagmire, but the United States at the beginning of an economic boom. The artists and writers who had taken shelter from the war in New York returned to Paris, and they were followed by a new generation of American writers, artists, editors, and hangers-on, who flocked to Paris, where the dollar's buying power against the devalued franc allowed a lifestyle that bought leisure to write, and allowed journals to publish cheaply - with time left to play in a country where moral rectitude had not led to Prohibition as it had in the United States. Journals such as Broom and the transatlantic review offered opportunities for modernist poets, and Americans Robert McAlmon and William Bird set up publishing houses in France that offered small print runs and quality printing for writers whose work could not find a commercial press. Meanwhile the London poetry scene lost some of its most promising poets in the war, and D. H. Lawrence began travels that took him anywhere but England, looking in his poetry to Whitman as a guide to what poetry could be. Pound moved to Paris, and later to Italy, declaring England to be in the last stages of a fading and corrupt empire.
But the centers of activity for American poetry split rather than shifted. Chicago, where Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg appeared to be repeating themselves, became less important, but in New York an alternative to the international modernism of the prose and poetry writers in Paris asserted itself. Critics such as Van Wyck Brooks and Paul Rosenfeld argued, much as Emerson had done in the previous century, for America to find its own writers and themes. A vibrant economy, an increased interest in new kinds of arts, and progress in promoting racial equality were behind the explosion of talent in the Harlem Renaissance, with such figures as Claude
McKay, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes leading the way. Others folded, but Williams began a new magazine titled Contact which emphasized, as its title suggests, the need to stay connected to America and American things; but his co-editor McAlmon joined the exodus to Paris. However, a well-financed takeover turned a moribund journal titled The Dial into an important New York outlet for modernist work - although the journal was international in its scope. A $2,000 annual prize indicated the resources of the magazine. The first award went to Sherwood Anderson. The second went to T. S. Eliot, whose The Waste Land had its first US publication in The Dial. Eliot had remained in London, and his influence on poetry and criticism on both sides of the Atlantic went on to become immense.
With the success of The Waste Land, and with much modern American prose and poetry being written or published in Europe, the provincial isolation of the American poet was over, something even the nativist apologists in New York conceded in their subject matter and styles. Despite the movement in New York, international modernism became the predominant style of modern American writing, the allusions and models coming from the European and Eastern traditions rather than from the legacy of American writing, with the exception of the increasing recognition of the achievement of Whitman. Eliot's style had been developed largely from his reading of nineteenth-century French poetry. Back in New Jersey, Williams ruefully imagined in a prose essay introducing his Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920) an international congress of poets where translations of French medieval poetry would be offered as representative American verse. This period - in which Continental Europe seemed an extension of the American literary scene, publication outlets abounded, and little magazines could be started in Europe for relatively few dollars - came to an end with the Wall Street crash of 1929. By the end of the decade The Dial, Broom, the transatlantic review, and the presses of McAlmon and Bird had all folded.
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