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  • Poetry: 1900 to the 1950s
  • Jeff Westover

T. S. Eliot’s concept of artistic impersonality continues to play an important role in the study of modern poetry. Laura (Riding) Jackson argues in favor of the personal in poetry in a newly published edition of her 1928 book of essays Contemporaries and Snobs; impersonality is a key term in a book by Christina Walter (addressed in the sections on H.D. and Mina Loy); and the concept is compared to Elizabeth Bishop’s poetic reticence at several points in The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Bishop. Recent scholarship also addresses the problem of history in relation to poetry, either by addressing the idea of history itself or by seeking to address prevailing issues of the past without replacing them by current scholarly concerns.

i General

Research on little magazines and modern poetry continues unabated. A recent example is Eric B. White’s Transatlantic Avant-Gardes: Little Magazines and Localist Modernism (Edinburgh, 2013). White’s critical key words are transatlantic and localist, and he examines the dynamic interface between the two concepts throughout his study, investigating “the vortex on the page” in work by Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Wyndham Lewis; the impact of advertising and Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity in little magazines; and issues of American identity and race. Williams is a major figure in the book because of his editorial roles with Others and Contact as well as his artistic emphasis [End Page 341] on the local in relation to cosmopolitan modernism. White also makes important arguments about work by Loy and Claude McKay. His book offers a wealth of archival research (including unpublished letters, editorials, and the magazine versions of specific poems and stories) in support of the overall claim that American modernism developed in relation to European modernism, not in isolation from it. Particularly compelling are his interpretations of the interplay between the graphic and linguistic elements of magazine covers (Williams’s design of a cover for Contact) or drawings accompanied by texts (by Djuna Barnes). These are two examples of the holistic way White approaches magazine texts, but his strategy proves just as revealing when he reads a series of poems by McKay in relation to a prose editorial that appeared in the same issue of the magazine in which the poems appeared. White rounds out his study by examining the way such younger writers as Louis Zukofsky, Carl Rakosi, Charles Reznikoff, and Kenneth Rexroth worked out a version of “new localism” in the context of late modernism.

According to Erin Kappeler’s “Editing America: Nationalism and the New Poetry” (MoMo 21: 899–918), recent historical approaches to modernist poetry have been reductive because they concentrate too much on contemporary ethical concerns rather than those of the era. Kappeler echoes aspects of the argument made by Charles Altieri in “How the ‘New Modernist Studies’ Fails the Old Modernism” (TexP 26 [2012]: 763–82). As a remedy Kappeler focuses on the racial and nationalistic ideas expressed in four books about poetry published between 1917 and 1919: The New Poetry by Alice Corbin Henderson and Harriet Monroe, Tendencies in Modern American Poetry by Amy Lowell, and Modern American Poetry and The New Era in American Poetry by Louis Untermeyer. Kappeler shows that these works follow the lead of Francis Barton Gummere, “a prominent and well-respected scholar of Anglo-Saxon poetry,” who argued that “racial traits were preserved in the rhythms of … primitive poetry.” Henderson and Monroe argued that “it was not formal innovation or ‘newness,’ but national self-awareness, that [they] championed in the new poetry.” Amy Lowell, expanding on this notion, “believed that the freer spirit of the new poetry was an indication of the triumph of American civilization and evidence of the country’s new role as the defender of global democracy.” As for Untermeyer, his “work demonstrates how openness of form came to be equated with democratic opportunity.” Given Kappeler’s focus on how these writers looked to the past for viable models of poetry in tune with their era and place, it is [End Page 342] curious that she does not refer to Eliot or Pound, except as embodiments of the fascist...


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pp. 341-362
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