Objectivism in the 1930s

In the spring of 1928, Williams met a twenty-three-year-old poet by the name of Louis Zukofsky, who was living in New York City. Williams was immediately impressed with the younger poet's work, and saw in him the possibility of another wave of the modernist movement. Nearly twenty years younger than Williams, Zukofsky was soon to become the central figure in the short-lived but important Objectivist movement of the early 1930s. Objectivism was in some ways an extension of Imagism, though it...

A new century from the genteel poets to Robinson and Frost

With the deaths of both Walt Whitman and John Greenleaf Whittier in 1892, an era in American poetry came to a close. Practically the entire generation which had defined American poetry in the latter half of the nineteenth century was now gone, such grey eminences as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell having passed away in the preceeding decade. Yet if the major American poets of the nineteenth century had departed, the first important generation of...

Elizabeth Bishop

Bishop's poetry resists easy classification, and despite her friendship with Lowell and her generational affinities with the confessionals, her work displays a greater degree ofreticence and restraint than that ofpoets like Lowell, Berryman, Plath, and Sexton. I have decided to conclude this chapter with a discussion of Bishop not because I think her poetry falls neatly or easily into the confessional mode, but because her work - by its very resistance to the more intimate styles of her...

Paterson and Williams later poetry

While Williams continued to write lyric poetry throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, his attention turned increasingly to a project that would be his answer to Eliot's Waste Land and Pound's Cantos. As early as 1926, he had written an eighty-five-line poem called Paterson, which would be the seed for his attempt at an American epic, Paterson. Paterson was published in five books during the period from 1946 to 1958. Its setting is the New Jersey city from which it takes its title. Unlike Pound,...

Introduction

A century is a considerable period of time in the development of any literary genre. This is especially true in the case of American poetry, which began the twentieth century as an enervated literary exercise and ended it as a vital form of cultural expression. American poets of the twentieth century pushed the limits of poetic composition, asking fundamental questions about what poetry is and how it should be written. Is poetry the product of an interaction between the real world and the...

Edna St Vincent Millay and the feminist lyric

Vincent Millay is often read - perhaps unfairly - as the poetic counterexample to more experimental work by women modernists. Millay not only wrote in what was generally considered to be a typically feminine manner, but she also publicized her own status as a woman writer in a way Lowell, H. D., and Moore never did. It was no doubt Millay's unique prominence as a literary figure - her gender-identified star status within the world ofAmerican poetry - that made her the target for sexist...

Robert Duncan and the San Francisco Renaissance

A far less public figure than Ginsberg, but one who had an equally important impact on the development of the New American Poetry, was Robert Duncan. Duncan, who was born in 1919 and attended the University of California, Berkeley, in the late 1930s, was one of the founding members of the San Francisco Renaissance in poetry. While the San Francisco poets were by no means a homogeneous group, their shared concerns with the creation of an alternative artistic and literary community and their...

John Crowe Ransom

Ransom was born in 1888 in rural Tennessee, the son of a Methodist minister. A precocious student, he entered Vanderbilt at the age of fifteen and graduated in 1909. Ransom studied classics at Oxford from 1910 to 1913, before returning to Vanderbilt as an instructor in the English department. He began writing poetry in about 1916, and in 1919 he published his first volume, Poems about God. In the early 1920s, Ransom discovered his mature poetic voice, publishing his two most important books...

The Harlem Renaissance

Harlem became the center of African American life only in the second decade ofthe twentieth century, when the great migration ofblacks from the rural south to the industrialized north brought a large black population into New York City. Between 1910 and 1930, the black population of New York increased from under 100,000 to over 300,000. The mass exodus from the south had several causes a deteriorating racial climate (including an increase in lynchings), an economic depression, and such natural...

Gendered modernism

With the exceptions of Marianne Moore and H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), women poets of the modernist era have not fared especially well in accounts of American literary history. Not only has the importance of women modernists often been overlooked by male poets and critics, but it was at times deliberately suppressed by male writers who were threatened by the entry of women into the world of literary high culture. When women poets made a concerted attempt to compete in the literary marketplace, they...

Women poets of the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was also an important moment for women poets, many of whom published in magazines like Crisis and Opportunity and in anthologies like Cullen's Caroling Dusk (1927) and James Weldon Johnson's Book of American Negro Poetry (1931). Though relatively few of these women published their own volumes ofpoetry (Georgia Douglas Johnson being the major exception), the work of such poets as Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Anne Spencer, Angelina Weld Grimke, Helene Johnson, Gwendolyn Bennett,...

Gary Snyder and Galway Kinnell

I conclude with a somewhat briefer discussion of two other meditative poems from the late 1950s and early 1960s Gary Snyder's Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout and Galway Kinnell's Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock. Kinnell's poem, published in 1964, can be seen as a midway point between the Deep Image poems of Bly and Wright and the more overtly surrealist mode of a poet like W. S. Merwin Snyder's poem, from his 1959 volume Riprap, moves toward a kind of linguistic clarity and...

The New Criticism and poetic formalism

In the early 1920s, a group of brilliant young poets initiated what would become one of the most important movements in twentieth-century American literature the New Criticism. The oldest of these poets, John Crowe Ransom, had been teaching at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, since 1914. Along with another Vanderbilt instructor, Donald Davidson, as well as undergraduate students Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren, Ramsom founded a literary magazine, The Fugitive. The members of...

The middle generation Tolson Hayden and Brooks

The Harlem Renaissance only lasted about a decade. In the early 1930s, the Great Depression closed down most avenues of economic and cultural opportunity for black writers, who depended heavily on the support ofboth white and black patrons. Though Hughes continued to write poetry until the 1960s, the production of poetry by African Americans began to fall off in the early 1930s and by 1935 the Renaissance was over. In the mid-1940s, a new generation of African American poets began to emerge. If...

The Black Mountain poets

The third grouping of the New American Poets was the Black Mountain school, consisting of those poets identified with Black Mountain College and its charismatic teacher, rector, and poet-in-residence Charles Olson. The Black Mountain group consisted of poets who taught at the college (Olson and Creeley), poets who studied there in the early 1950s (Edward Dorn, Joel Oppenheimer, Jonathan Williams, and John Wieners), and poets such as Denise Levertov who were more loosely affiliated with the...

The New Formalism

The revival of metered and rhymed poetry in the 1980s among a group of younger poets constituted the third generational wave of formal verse in the twentieth century. Adopting the somewhat pretentious title the New Formalism, poets disaffected by the unstructured free verse of the workshop lyric (the dominant style in university creative-writing programs during the 1970s and 1980s) sought to reinvigorate the practice of American poetry in traditional forms and meters. Depending on where one...

The Black Arts movement

The Black Arts movement - also known as the Black Aesthetic, the New Black Consciousness, and the New Black Renaissance - began in the mid-1960s and lasted, in its most intense phase, until the mid-1970s. The poetry, prose fiction, drama, and criticism written by African Americans during this period expressed a more militant attitude toward white American culture and its racist practices and ideologies. Slogans such as Black Power, Black Pride and Black is Beautiful represented a sense of...

The confessional moment

Among those poets who were inclined to challenge certain aspects of the New Criticism, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and John Berryman introduced a poetry which some maligned as confessionalism but others hailed as a liberation from the tyranny of poetic decorum. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and well into the 1980s the confessional model remained influential with academic critics and literary historians across a wide spectrum, perhaps because it offered a humanly compelling and rather clear-cut...

Theodore Roethkes North American Sequence

In North American Sequence, the opening section of Roethke's posthumous collection The Far Field (1964), the poet appears at times to draw almost too heavily on the Four Quartets. Nevertheless, North American Sequence is one of the most important meditative poems of the century. Roethke is a difficult poet to categorize he was not a confessional, although there are clearly confessional aspects to his work, nor was he a New Critical formalist, although many of his poems adopt formal structures....

Eliots Four Quartets

The Four Quartets - published during the late 1930s and early 1940s -remains the most impressive achievement in the twentieth-century mediti-tative lyric. Eliot wrote the Four Quartets in England, where he had been living and working since the 1910s. The poem has been claimed by both American and British readers as a part of their respective national literatures. By the time he wrote the Four Quartets, Eliot appeared to identify more strongly with the traditions of his adopted country than...

E E Cummings and Robinson Jeffers in the 1920s

It might have seemed to a follower of American poetry in the mid-1920s that it was E. E. Cummings, rather than W. C. Williams, who was the rising star of the poetic avant-garde. Cummings published four volumes of verse between 1923 and 1926, his poems appeared in a wide range of periodicals -including the Dial, Vanity Fair, and The Little Review - and in 1925 he was the third poet to receive the coveted Dial award, following Eliot and Moore. While not all critics were favorably disposed toward...

Anne Sexton

Sexton's The Truth the Dead Know, from All My Pretty Ones (1962), can be considered confessional in the sense that the poem's speaker can be clearly identified with the poet herself yet at the same time, the poem is a meditative lyric which raises fundamental questions about the nature of death. The primary philosophical tension of the poem opposes the societal construction of death as an occasion for social and religious ritual and the poetic construction of death as an occasion for creative...

Marianne Moore and the poetics of gendered modernism

Of all the women modernists, only Marianne Moore was able to occupy a secure position within the male-dominated literary world. Moore exerted an important influence on the development of modern poetry through her poems, her extensive correspondence with other writers, and her position from 1925 to 1929 as editor of The Dial. She was also able to establish and maintain significant literary relationships with most of the important male modernists ofher day (Pound, Eliot, Stevens, and Cummings,...

Ds revisionist mythmaking

Where Lowell's brand ofImagism tended to produce poems that were more overtly personal and less rigorously crafted, it was H. D. who perfected the form of lyric Pound recognized as the ideal Imagist poem a poem at once emotionally austere and highly concentrated in its use of language. H. D. and Lowell first met in 1914, and their literary paths were to cross on several other occasions Lowell's Tendencies in Modern Poetry (1917) contained one of the first critical assessments of H. D.'s poetry,...

T S Eliot and the wasteland of modernity

Though Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, both sides of his family were descended from old New England stock. Eliot's paternal grandfather was a Unitarian minister who had founded the first Unitarian church in St. Louis as well as its chief institution of higher learning, Washington University. Eliot attended Smith Academy in St. Louis and Milton Academy in Massachusetts before entering Harvard in 1906. A precocious literary talent, Eliot began writing poetry while still a...

Wallace Stevens and the supreme fiction

If Stevens is a very different poet from Eliot, it is in part because of his different relationship to poetic lyricism. Walton Litz, who entitled his book on Stevens Introspective Voyager, characterizes Stevens' poetic project as a voyage in search for the self 'a 'self' dependent on the pure poetry of the physical world, a 'self' whose terrifying lack of belief is turned into a source of freedom.1 This self is both solitary and interiorized (in dialogue with what he called the Interior...

William Carlos Williams

Williams was born in 1883 in Rutherford, New Jersey, and spent most of his life living and working in the same vicinity. His father was of British birth and was raised in the West Indies his mother was born in Puerto Rico and spoke mostly Spanish in the home. As a teenager, Williams lived for two years in Europe - attending schools in Switzerland and France -before returning to finish his education in the United States. He entered the University of Pennsylvania medical school, and while at Penn...

The New Criticism and postwar poetry

Although the New Criticism was an American phenomenon, it was part of a more general trend toward poetic formalism on both sides of the Atlantic. During the mid-1930s, volumes by William Empson, C. Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and W. H. Auden helped establish a period style in the work of younger English poets. The most influential of these poets was Auden, whose work was formal, casually ironic, and technically accomplished. Auden's poetry exerted an influence on an emerging generation of...

Hart Crane and the logic of metaphor

Crane's development as a poet owed a good deal to the work of firstgeneration modernists such as Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and W. B. Yeats, under whose collective shadow he began his career. Of these, it was Eliot who had the most important influence on Crane's work. Crane's relationship to Eliot's poetry could be described as obsessive he claimed to have read Prufrock at least twenty-five times, and after an initial disappointment with The Waste Land he went on to read it, too, over and over...

Deep Image Robert Bly and James Wright

In the 1960s and 1970s, the most prominent expression of the meditative impulse was the Deep Image movement. The poetry of Deep Image sought to use the visual image as a means of accessing deeper levels of feeling or consciousness, often in the form of sudden epiphanies or revelations of insight. In the words of Robert Bly, the Deep Image poem could be distinguished from the Imagism of the 1910s and 1920s by its use of the image to enact psychic leaps between the conscious and the unconscious....

Ezra Pound and the modernist image

In many ways, Ezra Pound epitomizes the avant-garde modernist poet outspoken, experimental, and fiercely iconoclastic. Pound had the most controversial career of any twentieth-century poet, and his overall place in American literature is more controversial than that of any other modernist. As a poet, a critic, and a promoter of other writers, Pound was central to the development of modernist poetry. T. S. Eliot, in dedicating his poem The Waste Land to Pound, called him the better craftsman (il...

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Robinson was born in 1869, making him the oldest of the American poets who successfully made the transition into the twentieth century. Robinson's poetry was, as the poet Louise Bogan later observed in an essay entitled Tilbury Town and Beyond (1931), one of the hinges upon which American poetry was able to turn from the sentimentality of the nineties toward modern veracity and psychological truth. Robinson's poetic output was considerable, and not all of it was of the highest quality, but his...

Amy Lowell and Imagism

The career of Amy Lowell is in many ways representative of the position of women poets during this period. Born in 1874 to an upper-class New England family, Lowell did not begin writing poetry until 1902 and did not publish her first volume until 1912. Lowell's first book, A Dome of Many-Colored Glass, was relatively conventional, recalling the style and attitudes of the Romantics and suggesting nothing in the way of an experimental or radically innovative style. Lowell's poetic development...

The New York school

The last of the groups constituting the New American Poetry was the New York poets, who included Ashbery, O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. The New York poets were associated with the avant-garde art world of New York City, and especially with the Abstract Expressionists who had made Manhattan the center of the international art scene. The New York poets - some of whom worked in the art world as curators and reviewers - wrote in an abstract and witty style that combined literary and...