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Brett C. Millier

Marianne Moore (1887–1972) is now considered a major Modernist poet, along with her friends Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. Winner of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Bolligen Prize, she was for a time (roughly 1955–1965) the most recognizable American poet (alongside Robert Frost), and her tiny pale face, wrapped by a long braid of white hair, and topped by a black tricorn hat, was known by many more people than knew her poems. The fey charm of her celebrity obscured for a long time her unique contribution to the Modernist poetic enterprise. Moore was an editor, critic, and translator, and edited the modernist journal the Dial from 1925–1929. As a poet, she wrote elaborately structured (she often wrote in syllabics, counting every syllable in every line and stanza) contemplations of the animal world, but with an eye to finding analogies in animal behavior for humanity’s moral struggles. A lifelong resident of New York City, Moore encountered nature in circuses and zoos, and in the pages of the National Geographic magazine, and often made use of lines from that magazine and other prose work in her poems, included in quotation marks. In addition nature and animals, her work is notable for its broad range of somewhat quirky subject matter. The elaborate formal structures of her poems conceal their absolutely correct grammatical construction; Moore claimed that she called them poems because she didn’t know what else to call them. Immune to the influence of literary fashion, she pursued her own goals of “humility, concentration, and gusto” in the composition of rigorously crafted, utterly idiosyncratic art.

Article

Brett C. Millier

The career of American poet Stanley Kunitz (1905–2006) spanned nearly eighty years of continuous productivity and achievement. At the age of 95, he was named Poet Laureate of the United States, and was also a Guggenheim (1945), Pulitzer Prize (1959), and National Book Award (1995, at the age of 90) winner. Born on the older edge of a generation of American poets whose lives were saddened and cut short by mental illness and alcoholism (his friends Theodore Roethke and Robert Lowell among them, as well as Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, and Delmore Schwartz), Kunitz overcame early sorrow and personal disappointment and lived, writing poems up to the time of his death at the age of 100. His early work showed the influence of the Metaphysicals and was generally highly formal and intellectually abstract. He resisted the move toward looser, “confessional” poetry for a long time after his contemporaries had embraced it, but critics agree that most of his best work followed his first “confessional” volume, The Testing Tree (1971). From 1946, Kunitz taught literature and creative writing at universities including Bennington College, SUNY Pottsdam, the New School, the University of Washington, and Columbia University. After his retirement, he devoted himself to gardening, and to writing “visionary” poems of maturity and old age, some of the finest in the language.

Article

Christopher Buck and Derik Smith

Robert Hayden was made poet laureate of Senegal in 1966 and ten years later became America’s first black poet laureate. He was acclaimed as “People’s Poet” early in his career, but he was largely ignored by the American literary establishment until late in life. In his poetics of history and his nuanced representations of black life, Hayden’s art showed that the African American experience was quintessentially American, and that blackness was an essential aspect of relentlessly heterogeneous America. As he figured it in his late-in-life poem, “[American Journal],” national identity was best metaphorized in “bankers grey afro and dashiki long hair and jeans / hard hat yarmulka mini skirt.” Hayden’s archetypal efforts to demonstrate the kaleidoscopic quality of both black and American identity produced an art that transcended propagandistic categories of race and nation, and pathed the way for a large cadre of late 20th and early 21st century poets who, like Hayden, understand themselves to be simultaneously black and American, but ultimately human.

Article

Latin American literature is a broad and heterogeneous category composed of voices from many countries spanning two continents. In the United States, more attention has been given to Cuban, Chicano/a, and Central American literatures than to writers from other South American countries. This article tries to remedy this disparity by focusing on the presence and influence of literature from South American countries, among them Colombia, Peru, and Argentina. The Latin American Boom was one of the most important literary movements that introduced Latin American literature into the United States and the broader international scene. After the revolution of 1959, Cuba began to offer opportunities for writers and artists from all over Latin America who wanted to pursue their intellectual or artistic interests. One of the reasons the United States government established the Alliance for Progress was to counter Cuba’s influence on Latin American intellectuals. The insidious program Alliance for Progress had a darker side that supported repressive military regimes across Latin America that were responsible for the death, torture and disappearance of thousands of South American citizens. At the same time, it did facilitate the translation and publication of Latin American novels; making them available to the American public. As a result, the works of Colombian, Peruvian, Argentine and Chilean writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar, Jose Donoso, Manuel Puig, and Mario Vargas Llosa were published and widely read in the United States. South American literatures have developed a strong presence in the United States such as Andean literature and literature of exile. Since the 1980s, indigenous populations of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador have migrated legally or extra-legally to the United States, whether in search of better opportunities or to escape the violence of their home countries. These vibrant Andean populations have contributed to expanding the Andean Archipelago of literature. Similarly, high numbers of Argentines went into exile during the military dictatorship of 1976 to escape government violence and repression. Scholars such as Yossi Shain affirm that exiles expand the borders of the country by creating a diaspora that continues to interact with their compatriots in their home country and with those spread throughout the world. One example is Luisa Valenzuela, an Argentine writer, who continued to be committed to resisting the dictatorship while in exile. Her work is engaged with the process of writing, and how the exile experience influenced her work and her identity.

Article

Paul Johnston

The terms “Fireside Poets” or “Schoolroom Poets” are used to designate a group of five poets—William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell—who were popular in America in the latter half of the 19th century. Their poetry was read both around household firesides, often aloud by a mother or father to the gathered family, and in schoolrooms, where they inculcated wisdom and morals and patriotic feeling in America’s young. While they continued to be taught in K-12 classrooms well into the 20th century, they lost their standing first with critics and then with college and university professors with the coming of modernism in the early decades of the 20th century. Despite scattered attempts to restore both their critical reputations and their place in the curriculum, they continue to have only a marginal place in the minds of those most familiar with poetry. The Postmodern/New Historicist challenges to modernism find little of interest in them—Belknap’s A New Literary History of America (2009), for instance barely mentions them—while the neo-Victorian turn toward socially conscious literature, which might be expected to retrieve them, has so far paid them little mind, though some attention has recently been given to their environmental and Native American themes. But this marginalization may more reflect the marginalization of poetry as a whole in American society at large than a true estimate of their worth to common readers. While young students no longer read Longfellow’s Evangeline or Bryant’s “The Chambered Nautilus,” these poets may yet form the vanguard of a restoration of the enjoyment of poetry in America.