Funaroff p. In the early s it was partly the sense that capitalism had run its course and failed that led many of these poets to embrace the possibility of revolutionary change and to join a collective mode of writing. The Communist International, or Comintern, called for a worldwide alliance between revolutionaries and progressives, a Popular Front to defeat fascism, in , but many writers were not entirely ready to heed the call.
Then in July a group of right-wing army officers allied with conservative clergy and reactionary politicians to stage a revolt against the democratically elected government. The people themselves rose up in Madrid and Barcelona to crush the revolt, and the whole insurgency might well have ended within weeks. But Hitler and Mussolini intervened on the side of the rebel generals. What might have been a brief internal conflict turned into a two-and-a-half-year war with wide international implications.
Thousands of volunteers joined the Comintern-organized International Brigades to help defend the Spanish Republic against its own army and German and Italian forces. And the choral poetry of revolution was transformed almost immediately into the still more coherent and more powerfully collective poetry of antifascism. For a number of modern American poets, the period of the Spanish Civil War was a period when they were no longer primarily American writers; they were part of an international political struggle and an international community of writers.
If a number of American poets had earlier wondered how to give modernist experimentalism an American inflection, how to interleave collage with p.
My answer to one of my opening questions—what distinguishes American poetry and justifies giving it partial autonomy? But Spain is the exception that proves the rule. A decade later, as Michael Thurston reminds us here, the Popular Front consensus would be under sustained assault in the midst of the McCarthy period. For many of the revolutionary poets of the s, would be a key year. Aaron Kramer — and Edwin Rolfe would each write a series of bleak but sometimes sardonic poems attacking the culture of the witch hunts.
Words planted in affection can spout a field of hate.
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His portrait of slaveowner culture culminates in a nightmare vision:. The only solution is resistance. A year later, Melvin Tolson — published his dense, allusive masterpiece The Libretto for the Republic of Liberia :. Uncannily, it, too, came out of a telling conjunction between personal anguish and historical experience, not unlike The Waste Land.
Autobiography was now in the forefront of the poem. American modernism had come to an end. Lowell grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, as part of a family with a distinguished literary heritage.
Navy—seem more severe. There he met the poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, one of the leaders of American New Criticism, who introduced Lowell to preferences for rhetorically intricate and ironic poems. Lowell also broke with his Protestant family history by converting to Catholicism in Yet from the outset of his career Lowell had actually been drawn to a more complex subject, one that Walter Kalaidjian documents: the intersection of public history and autobiographical experience.
Though later work like The Dolphin would sometimes mine his personal experience remorselessly, his poems overall are a remarkable testament to p. Ginsberg was at once one of the major poets of the second half of the twentieth century and a public figure who entreated his country by way of his poetry to realize its full democratic potential. No one who saw and heard Ginsberg stand on a flatbed truck before thousands of U. With rifles bristling at him, Ginsberg read his Pentagon exorcism poem in defiance of imperialist military power and in a plea that the demons of war would quit the building.
A rather modest poem, it nonetheless made for an unforgettable occasion. Yet Ginsberg was never actually militant or aggressive. Learned in Zen Buddhism and western mysticism, his presence exuded rather an expansive and insistent gentleness. He was born and grew up in New Jersey, but it was the emerging Beat generation in New York City that shaped his vision and that he helped to define.
He was educated at Columbia University, though his degree was delayed when he was expelled for what would now constitute no more than a prank: placing obscene messages on his grimy dormitory window to draw attention to the need to clean the room. As he became friends with William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and other figures in the Beat literary and drug scene, a more serious infraction arose when he let Herbert Huncke use his dorm room to store the stolen goods he employed to support his heroin habit. In exchange for avoiding prosecution, Ginsberg pleaded insanity and spent eight months in the Columbia Psychiatric Institute.
By then he had worked a series of odd jobs, including service on merchant tankers, but he had also had an auditory vision of William Blake reading his poems aloud one day in Harlem. He also soon met and was befriended by William Carlos Williams. Ginsberg had become a twentieth-century incarnation of Walt Whitman.
The mix of moods in his work would remain consistent throughout his career—prophetic, elegiac, ecstatic. He would write triumphant poems of political protest, lamentations about death, celebratory poems about homosexuality, and affirmations of visionary transformation. He chanted his poems to the accompaniment of finger cymbals, sang them with rock groups, and intoned them in a high resonant voice that made his poetry a form of contemporary prophecy.
Some of the other writers associated with the Beats—notably Amiri Baraka at the time still known as LeRoi Jones and Gary Snyder—evolved in other directions. Baraka became the central theorist and a leading practitioner of the Black Arts Movement. Born Everett Leroy Jones in to a middle-class family in Newark, New Jersey, as the son of a postal employee and social worker, Baraka was educated at Rutgers, Howard, and Columbia universities.
His work and his system of beliefs p. Yet he was also increasingly impatient with what he saw as the political irrelevance of the Beats and the gradualism of the civil rights movement. Race was also becoming more central to his view of American culture.
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His center of operations moved from the Lower East Side to Harlem, and he became a founding figure of the Black Arts Movement of the late s and early s. For several years he was a stunningly forceful advocate of black cultural nationalism, but by he was finding its racial exclusivity confining.
He thus embraced the revolutionary forms of international socialism. Baraka receives treatment in this handbook in several chapters. Born in in San Francisco and raised on a farm north of Seattle, Washington, Snyder was educated at Reed College, where he studied literature, Buddhist philosophy, and Native American mythology.
He then worked as a logger and spent summers as a forest-fire lookout in Oregon, Washington, and California. Involved with the Beat writers in San Francisco in the mids, he made a major change in his life in by moving to Japan to study Zen Buddhism. Except for some shipboard work, he remained there for 12 years.
He returned to the United States in , and a few years later he built a home in a remote community in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in California. Although Snyder has adopted different forms over the years, he generally prefers a direct, simple diction over intricate metaphor and allusion. One may hear Thoreau and Whitman behind such an impulse, along with his Zen studies, but the ecological imperative includes an anguish that we only fully earned in the twentieth century. Against the errors of industrial civilization Snyder sets not only a reverence for nature but also a vital celebration of human sexuality.
More recently, Snyder has borrowed shamanistic effects from oral poetry and has experimented with field effects and the space of the page. If Snyder is a central poet for the whole ecological movement, it is notable that several other poets who began work in the s became key figures in loosely organized literary movements in the following decade as well. The New York School p. Navy in the South Pacific from to The poems skate easily over surfaces, light on objects, absorb variations in mood, and register the cultural and political temper of the times with a grace that makes them immensely pleasurable, but an oblique sense of tragedy also gives them a haunting gravity.
Widely imitated, his voice remains exceptional. His friend John Ashbery, however, has lived to have a long and rich career. Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York. He grew up on a farm in nearby Sodus and was educated at Harvard and Columbia. After a Fulbright fellowship that took him to France, he stayed on and worked as an art critic for several newspapers and magazines, finally returning to become executive editor of Art News from to In his early work his approach sometimes seemed antirepresentational, with a focus on linguistic events and the structures of thought.
As a result, he was often associated with abstract expressionist painting of the s and s. But as his witty incorporation of linguistic commonplaces and public speech was matched by the use of multiple references to popular culture, his work became more accessible and his project more distinctive. Rapid changes in focus and mood still marked his poems, but he was now questioning how a commodified world might shape human consciousness.
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He is thus perhaps the poet who has thought most deeply about the mental life that mass culture grants to us. In the process he came to doubt the plausibility of any coherent selfhood or the credibility of a conventionally coherent narrative.
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She was raised by her mother after her father died of complications from diabetes when she was eight. In , after serving a month as a college guest editor at the New York fashion magazine Mademoiselle , she had a breakdown, was unwisely subjected to electric shock therapy, and then attempted suicide and was hospitalized for six months, events she later adapted for her novel The Bell Jar It was while in England two years later, from to , that she met her husband, the British poet Ted Hughes, who has been the controversial shepherd of her posthumous career.
Plath and Hughes came to the United States in , and she taught at Smith for a year, while also taking a poetry writing seminar offered by Robert Lowell at Boston University; Anne Sexton was enrolled as well. In the fall of , after Plath learned that Hughes had been unfaithful, they separated. It was a brutally cold winter and not easy to maintain a household.
Yet the freedom had an impact on her. That fall she began writing with an astonishing intensity, shaping nearly overwhelming emotions into flawlessly crafted poems. Into a crucible went details of her own life and the horrors of modern history; she fused them into a harrowing, ironic persona, an archetype of a modern woman in an ecstatic crisis of gendered self-recognition amidst the ruins of history.
In a few short months these astonishingly lucid poems—furious, sardonic, defiant, and exquisitely musical—established a benchmark against which every American poet wishing to tell a brutal truth would have to measure himself or herself:.