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History, Memory, and the Literary Left

Modern American Poetry, 1935-1968

John Lowney

Publication Year: 2006

In this nuanced revisionist history of modern American poetry, John Lowney investigates the Depression era’s impact on late modernist American poetry from the socioeconomic crisis of the 1930s through the emergence of the new social movements of the 1960s. Informed by an ongoing scholarly reconsideration of 1930s American culture and concentrating on Left writers whose historical consciousness was profoundly shaped by the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, Lowney articulates the Left’s challenges to national collective memory and redefines the importance of late modernism in American literary history. The late modernist writers Lowney studies most closely---Muriel Rukeyser, Elizabeth Bishop, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Thomas McGrath, and George Oppen---are not all customarily associated with the 1930s, nor are they commonly seen as literary peers. By examining these late modernist writers comparatively, Lowney foregrounds differences of gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and social class and region while emphasizing how each writer developed poetic forms that responded to the cultural politics and socioaesthetic debates of the 1930s. In so doing he calls into question the boundaries that have limited the scholarly dialogue about modern poetry.No other study of American poetry has considered the particular gathering of careers that Lowney considers. As poets whose collective historical consciousness was profoundly shaped by the turmoil of the Depression and war years and the Cold War’s repression or rewriting of history, their diverse talents represent a distinct generational impact on U.S. and international literary history.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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TItle Page, Copyright

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Acknowledgments and Permissions

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pp. ix-xii

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1. The Janitor’s Poems of Every Day: American Poetry and the 1930s

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pp. 1-33

Perhaps the best-known American poem about waste since The Waste Land, Wallace Stevens’s “The Man on the Dump” represents the dump as a site of ruin and recovery, of imagistic refuse and linguistic transformation, a site in which even the detritus of a collapsed capitalist economy can be converted into poetry. Stevens’s dump appears...

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2. Buried History: The Popular Front Poetics of Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead

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pp. 34-66

As Adrienne Rich’s “An Atlas of the Difficult World” (1991) suggests, Muriel Rukeyser’s work as “poet journalist pioneer mother” (Rich 150) has not been forgotten. Since the late 1960s, Rukeyser has been celebrated as an iconoclastic “pioneer mother” of contemporary feminist poetry, and her work as an activist “poet journalist,” from...

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3. Allegories of Salvage: The Peripheral Vision of Elizabeth Bishop’s North & South

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pp. 67-98

At the end of the same year in which Muriel Rukeyser drove to West Virginia to investigate Gauley Bridge (1936), her former Vassar classmate Elizabeth Bishop traveled for the first time to what is now the southernmost end of U.S. 1, Key West, Florida. Key West would...

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4. Harlem Disc-tortions: The Jazz Memory of Langston Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred

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pp. 99-127

Langston Hughes’s 1951 montage of “contemporary Harlem” concludes with a motif that recurs throughout the poem and throughout his career: “Dream within a dream/Our dream deferred” (Collected Poems 421).1 Hughes locates this African American...

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5. A Reportage and Redemption: The Poetics of African American Countermemory in Gwendolyn Brooks’s In the Mecca

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pp. 128-160

Only months before the publication of Langston Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred, Harper’s magazine published a lengthy article by John Bartlow Martin on “one of the most remarkable Negro slum exhibits in the world” (87), the Mecca Building on Chicago’s South...

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6. A Metamorphic Palimpsest: The Underground Memory of Thomas McGrath’s Letter to an Imaginary Friend

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pp. 161-191

This trope of the poet’s underground vision is at once geological, archaeological, and mythic. It crystallizes the stratified sites of memory that structure McGrath’s long poem: from the Dakotas to Louisiana, from “the coiling Kennebec River” in Maine to “War and the City"...

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7. The Spectre of the 1930s: George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous and Historical Amnesia

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pp. 192-229

In 1958 George Oppen completed his first poem since the publication of his first and then only published volume of poems, Discrete Series (1934). This poem, which was originally entitled “To Date” and...


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pp. 231-258


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pp. 259-277


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pp. 279-287

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297335
E-ISBN-10: 1587297337
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587295089
Print-ISBN-10: 1587295083

Page Count: 303
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 658122105
MUSE Marc Record: Download for History, Memory, and the Literary Left

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Subject Headings

  • Poets, American -- 20th century -- Political and social views.
  • American poetry -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Depressions -- 1929 -- United States.
  • Right and left (Political science) in literature.
  • Politics and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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