American Poetry in Performance
From Walt Whitman to Hip Hop
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Acknowledgments
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In 1882 in his book Specimen Days and Collect,Walt Whitman published a short reiterative prose piece called “Ventures, on an Old Theme.” In it, he makes his case again for an American poetry free of meter and rhyme, insisting, “In these States, beyond all precedent, poetry will have to do with actual facts, with the concrete States,...
Chapter 1 - Walt Whitman “Live”: Performing the Public Sphere
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Whitman is not well known for having recited his poetry out loud to others, and is on record as saying that he was “nothing of a reader,” that, in fact, he preferred not to read his own work and couldn’t recite it in any event, since he didn’t have it memorized (WWWC, 9:124). Despite such claims, he did perform on...
Chapter 2 - The Ordeal of Vachel Lindsay, or The Cultural Politics of the Spoken Word
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Although Vachel Lindsay is not well known today, for a time during the ‹rst half of the twentieth century he was one of the most popular poets in the United States. Harriet Monroe, who printed Lindsay’s ‹rst poem in 1913 in her in›uential magazine Poetry, noted of him in 1924: “the obscure aspirant of ten years ago has become probably the best and farthest known of all our American...
Chapter 3 - “ The Black Man Speaks”: Langston Hughes, the New Negro, and the Sounds of Citizenship
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Perhaps surprisingly, in light of the sometimes racist impersonations/ ventriloquizings of earlier white poets, black spoken-word artists coming of age in the 1920s looked back to both Whitman and Lindsay as models for their performance of race and nation and theorizing of the relation between speech and text. Hughes, for one, visited Whitman’s Camden, New Jersey, home in 1927...
Chapter 4 - Beat Acoustics, Presence, and Resistance
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The poets of the beat generation had their ears to the ground, too, keenly aware of the history of public performance poetry unrolling toward them, a history in both black and white. In an early draft of his poem “America” (the same title as the poem of Whitman’s on wax cylinder), Ginsberg unabashedly announces his paternity: “I Allen Ginsberg Bard out of New Jersey take up the laurel...
Chapter 5 - “Rappin’ and Readin’ ”: The Frequencies of the Black Arts
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A network of black poets of the 1960s and 1970s were as insistent on the spoken word and its public effects as their precursors had been, even if their politics of performance radically differed. Larry Neal, a prime agent of the Black Arts movement (what he termed the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept”), insisted that “the poet must become a performer, the way James Brown is a performer...
Chapter 6 - Slam Nation: Immediacy, Mediatization, and the Counterpublic Sphere
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Perhaps to overcome the charge of trendiness, contemporary artists of the rap-meets-poetry scene have constructed for themselves a family tree, one with many arcing branches, to authenticate their performativity and af‹rm their identitarian politics. Bob Holman, a slam poet and one of the poetry slam’s best-known impresarios (he led the effort to reopen the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a ma...
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As Dana Gioia points out in his 2004 book Disappearing Ink, we currently are living through a cultural revolution, one in which “print has lost its primacy in communication”; as he observes, “the most surprising and signi‹cant development in recent American poetry has been the wide-scale and unexpected reemergence of popular poetry, a poetry that is predominantly oral and informed...
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Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2013