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Article

Claire Keyes

Adrienne Rich has earned a place in American literature as the leading feminist poet of the 20th century. Most critics agree that she has accomplished what no woman writer has done before: to speak—in poetry—with a public voice. Although some aspects of her verse might be considered in the confessional mode, she demands that her poetry be more than a personal expression. As a result of her prose as well as her verse, she has developed a wide, international readership. A feminist trailblazer at a time when one was needed, Rich moves beyond feminism to speak her poetic truth and unabashedly allies that truth with politics. In forging her identity as poet, public intellectual, nurturer of other women, and advocate for causes, she challenges women to seek a larger, more equitable world for themselves and others.

Article

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

Susan M. Schultz

John Ashbery (1927–2017) was a major American poet who synthesized myriad influences of Renaissance poetry, English and American Romanticism, as well as the 20th-century European avant-garde, to create a life’s work of stunning formal and linguistic diversity. He adopted the vatic mode from poets like Andrew Marvell and Thomas Traherne, and demotic American vocabularies from pop culture, journalism, and advertising. He wrote serious meditations on life and mortality, as well as funny poems about Popeye and ordinary life; his tone often wobbled between high and low, serious and frivolous. Ashbery was also a prolific translator of French poetry and prose, as well as an art critic. Critics have praised Ashbery and denounced him, but none doubts that his poetry made a deep mark on American literary history from the late 1950s until his death in 2017.

Article

Asian American poetry flourished in the first two decades of the 21st century. In 2004, the Asian American literary organization Kundiman hosted their inaugural workshop-based retreat at the University of Virginia, connecting poets from the United States and North America across generations. (The retreat continues to be held annually at Fordham University and has included fiction writers, as fellows and faculty, since 2017.) The first year of Kundiman’s retreat coincided with the publication of Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, edited by Victoria Chang, which introduced emerging poets Kazim Ali, Cathy Park Hong, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Srikanth Reddy, and Paisley Rekdal, among others, to a broader audience of readers and critics and, at the same time, urged a reassessment of the contemporary poetry field. Both events signaled an emergent generation’s desire to find community and acknowledgment for their work. Not only were these goals accomplished, but the collectivization of young Asian American poets and critical attention from universities and other cultural institutions also evinced how powerfully the impact of a previous generation of Asian American poets had been felt. That generation arguably began with the publication of Cathy Song’s Yale Younger Poets Prize–winning book Picture Bride in 1982 and grew to include Marilyn Chin, Li-Young Lee, Garrett Hongo, and Agha Shahid Ali, whose work can be found in Norton anthologies of poetry and various other canon-defining projects. The critical and cultural acceptance these poets enjoyed at the end of the 20th century blazed a trail for Asian American poets of the 21st century, who increasingly balance the lyric conventions of emotional expressiveness and imagistic language with audacious political subjectivity. In doing so, Asian American poets of the 21st century have opened up conceptions of lyric, particularly regarding voice, to incorporate questions of identity, immigration and migration, and American cultural experience. Contemporary Asian American poets frequently reimagine the lyric tradition through a distinctly Asian American political imagination.

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

Since the late 1990s, complaints about the status of poetry, and the parlous state of poetry publishing, have been commonplace in Australia and other Anglophone nations. Concomitant with this discourse of decline (a transnational discourse with a surprisingly long history) is a discourse of return, in which poetry is presented as returning to public culture (often through the literalized voice of the poet) to reoccupy the place it putatively held in earlier, if not premodern, times. Poetry’s engagement with public themes and the public use of poetry continue to be important, if sometimes overlooked, elements of Australian literary culture. Indeed, despite its apparent marginality, contemporary poetry could be said to have what may be called an “ambiguous vitality” in public life. While other forms of media continue to dominate public culture, poetry nevertheless remains public, in part by occupying or being occupied by those other forms of media. In other words, contemporary poetry’s ambiguously vital presence in public culture can be seen in the ways it figures in extra-poetic contexts. Such contexts are manifold. For instance, poetry—and the figure of the poet—are mobilized as tropes in other media such as films and novels; poetry is used as a form of public/political speech to articulate crisis and loss (such as at annual Anzac ceremonies); and it is used in everyday rituals such as weddings and funerals. Public culture, as this list suggests, is haunted by the marginal discourse of poetry. In addition, poetry’s traditional function of commenting on the body politic and current political debates continues, regardless of the size of the medium’s putative audience. Recent poetry on the so-called “War on Terror,” the Stolen Generation, and asylum seekers illustrates this. But contemporary Australian poetry engages in public life in ways other than the thematization of current public events. Poets such as Jennifer Maiden, John Forbes, and J. S. Harry exemplify a group of poets who have figured themselves as public poets in a self-consciously ironic fashion; acknowledging poetry’s marginality, they nevertheless write poetry as if it had or may have an extra-poetic efficacy.

Article

Southern poetry embraces dichotomous elements: it contains poems lauding the Confederacy, and also poems deeply critical and mournful of the racist violence, oppression, and racist terrorism that characterize the region’s history. Yet a common thread runs through Southern poetry—attention to the land, the rural South as a character in its own right, and with that attention to the land a quality of haunting and being haunted by the history of the South: the violence of colonization, enslavement, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow. Twentieth-century poet Etheridge Knight, born in Mississippi, lyrically describes the earth of Mississippi merging with the graves of his ancestors, calling him home to a place where, as a black man, he is not safe. Nineteenth-century poet Sidney Lanier, born in Georgia and, like Knight, a man who had experienced imprisonment, shapes in his poetry a mythical country where trees and rivers and indigenous crops become forces superseding the human; but Lanier, a soldier for the Confederacy, does not mention enslavement in his poetry. In Southern poetry, this blind spot—the white Southern poet who does not see or reflect upon the racist violence of enslavement, Jim Crow, lynching—is often submerged into a poetry melancholic and obsessed with unnamable violence and loss, even as African American poets of the South often name this loss in terms of personal memory. Myth—of the aristocratic, agrarian South—in white Southern poetry, and memory—of personal risk and suffering—in African American Southern poetry, can be understood together as a common pull to write the land, albeit from different perspectives.

Article

Louis G. Mendoza

The poetry, memoirs, essays, letters, prison journalism, and other forms of writing by Raúl Salinas (1934–2008) were grounded in his commitments to social justice and human rights. He was an early pioneer of contemporary Chicano pinto (prisoner) poetry whose work was characterized by a vernacular, bilingual, free verse aesthetics. Alongside other notables like Ricardo Sánchez, Luis Talamentez, Judy Lucero, and Jimmy Santiago Baca, Salinas helped make Chicana and Chicano prisoner rights an integral part of the agenda of the Chicana/o Movement through his writing and activism while incarcerated (1959–1972) and following his release. He was also a prolific prose writer in prison, and much of his journalism, reflective life writing, essays, and letters from his archives were published following his release. As important as his literary and political production in prisons was for establishing his literary recognition, it is important to note that the scope of his writing expands well beyond his prison experience. Though his literary and political interventions were important to a still emergent Chicana and Chicano literary, cultural, and political aesthetic, he was influenced by, but was not limited to, American and Latin American literary traditions. Given the scope of his life’s work, his indigenous and internationalist commitments, Salinas’ literary output make him a Xicanindio (indigenous identified Chicano) poet, a Latino internationalist, as well as a spoken word jazz and hip-hop artist whose work engaged, adapted and transformed elements of the American literary canon.

Article

Sean Pryor

If poetics customarily deals with generalities, history seems to insist on particulars. In the 21st century, various literary critics have sought to manage these competing imperatives by developing an “historical poetics.” These critics pursue sometimes very different projects, working with diverse methodologies and theoretical frameworks, but they share a desire to think again about the relation between poetics and history. Some critics have pursued an historical poetics by conducting quantitative studies of changes in metrical form, while others have investigated the social uses to which poetry was put in the cultures of the past. Both approaches tend to reject received notions of the aesthetic or literary, with their emphasis on the individual poet and on the poem’s organic unity. Much work in historical poetics has focused instead on problems of genre and reception, seeking the historical significance of poetry in what is common and repeated. Sometimes this work has involved extensive archival research, examining memoirs, grammar books, philological tracts, and other materials in order to discover how poetry was conceived and interpreted at a particular time. These methods allow critics to tell histories of poetry and to reveal a history in poetry. The cultural history of poetic forms thus becomes a history of social thought and practice conducted through poetry. For other critics, however, the historical significance of a poem lies instead in the way it challenges the poetics of its time. This is to emphasize the singular over the common and repeated. In this mode, historical poetics aims both to restore poems to their proper historical moment and to show how poems work across history. The history to be valued in such cases is not a ground or world beyond the poem, but the event of the poem itself.

Article

The signal works of poetry that prominently feature racialized Blackness in early Arabic literature (c. ad 500–1250) include works composed by authors of Afro-Arab heritage as well as by Arab authors who satirized and panegyrized Black subjects. These poets include the pre-Islamic author ʿAntarah ibn Shaddād and the ʿAbbasid-era figures al-Mutanabbī and Ibn al-Rūmī, and thus reflect the shift, across an extensive timeline, from a local, Bedouin poetics to a self-styled cosmopolitan, courtly aesthetic characterized as muḥdath, or modernist. The works are situated not only within the changing conventions of genre, but also within an arc that traces the emergence of new race concepts and racialized social institutions in the transition from the pre-Islamic era to Islam and from the early conquests to ʿAbbasid imperialization. Critical instances of these works’ intertextual movements demonstrate how racial logic accretes in various Arab-Muslim textual traditions, showing how poetry intersects with popular epic as well as high literary geographical, ethnological, and commentarial corpuses. As verse moves across a myriad of later literary forms, its context-specific representations of racial difference are recontextualized and received in ways that contribute to a broader transregional and transtemporal discourse of racialized Blackness.

Article

Richard Danson Brown

Literature during the Renaissance period was highly conscious of the language of form. Form is at once ambiguous, questionable, and has ramifications for a number of fields, including issues of line, meter, and versification on the one hand and broader questions of genre on the other. The verse line in 16th-century English literature shows in practice the tensions between humanist idealism and vernacular traditions, as writers of different generations struggled to find a form that would best capture the potential of a politically marginal, culturally ambitious, language. The sonnet is considered as a morphic form of enormous influence that shaped thinking and practice throughout Europe, as in texts by Louise Labé, Edmund Spenser, and Anne Locke. The typically Renaissance form of the stanzaic epic showcases another novel form, illustrated by the interlocking stanzas of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590–1596), and the ironic mimicking of that form with difference in Donne’s Metempsychosis (dated 1601 but not published until 1633).

Article

Among the many challenges facing Arabic literature in translation, the question of gender has historically been one of the most fraught, particularly as it presses upon Arab women writers. The persistence of Orientalist tropes such as the veil and the harem; the continual othering of the exotic and supposedly untranslatable East; the frequent lumping together of Arab, Muslim, and Middle Eastern identities; the slippage between memoir, or autobiography, and fiction; and the tendency to isolate gender issues from their political, historical, and social contexts—these are some of the many phenomena that scholars and translators have examined in the Western academy. Some issues, such as the burden of mimesis, the tendency to depoliticize the work of controversial authors, and the continual association of Arabic with the Qurʾān (and thereby with the untranslatable and the sacred), face all works of Arabic in their translation for the English-language marketplace. Other issues, such as the stereotyping of Arab women as either helpless victims, exceptional escapees, or deluded pawns of Arab patriarchy, in Mohja Kahf’s reading, affect Arab women’s writing (and literature featuring Arab women characters) with particular force. Many scholars have highlighted the division between the simplistic, flattening representations of Arab women writers offered in mainstream Western publishing and the more nuanced, literarily sensitive presentations in translated works published by small, specialist, and university presses. Pressing issues of genre are also at play: the desire among American publics for a sociological, ethnographic “glimpse behind the veil” of Middle Eastern society has created a preference for both documentary memoirs and mimetic–realist works of fiction that has drawn attention away from works of experimental prose and—most notably—from poetry. Whereas male poets such as the Palestinian Maḥmūd Darwīsh (Mahmoud Darwish) and the Syro-Lebanese Adūnīs (Adunis) have multiple discrete volumes in English translation, Arab women tend to be confined to the realm of anthologies, where one or two poems are meant to represent an entire life of variegated poetic creation, and where the emphasis on their personal identity (“Arab woman”) is highlighted above their role in a more complex literary, social, and historical world. Although several contemporary poets have managed to break from the anthology loop, early-21st-century works in translation suggest that the stereotype of the Muslim woman in need of “saving” has not yet gone away. Still, scholars and translators have also offered numerous strategies and tactics for “rewiring the circuits” that govern the representation of Arab women in the West.

Article

Dana Gioia

A singular figure in the mid-20th century American arts, Kees did significant work in poetry, fiction, painting, film, and criticism. Although neglected in the years following his death, he is now recognized as one of the most influential poets of his generation. Focusing mainly on poetry and fiction, the article outlines the author’s development from the minimalism of his early naturalist fiction to the cosmopolitan innovation of his later poetry. Full of formal originality, musical brilliance, and technical skill, Kees’s poetry is most distinctive for its dark and apocalyptic vision. The poet’s restless and varied career had its heyday in 1940s New York and came to its tragic end in 1950s San Francisco, culminating in the poet’s mysterious disappearance and presumed suicide.

Article

“Women’s poetry” as a marketing and pedagogic category emerged in the 1970s alongside second-wave feminism. To map the emergence of women’s poetry in and of Australia requires exploring the role of gender in poetic authorship and how the field of Australian poetry has changed in light of feminist movements and theories. Women have used poetry to cross between public and private spheres, to assert an individual and often collective voice, and to critique gender’s intersection with other constitutive identities such as nation and race. While poetry has provided a highly significant means of linguistic transformation and social activism, it has sometimes been viewed as too limiting for feminist writers. Similarly, while the category of “women’s poetry” was strategically empowering in particular periods, it has also been viewed as generating exclusions and marginalization. Feminism has developed both historically and culturally, with the valency of various feminisms in Australia being tested through processes of institutionalization and social change at both a local and global level.

Article

Olga L. Herrera

Sandra Cisneros is one of the best-known and most influential Chicana authors in American literature. Beginning with her first chapbook publication in 1980, the poetry collection Bad Boys, Cisneros has written and published fiction, poetry, and essays with a distinct Chicana feminist consciousness. Drawing on her experience as an only daughter in a large Mexican American family, Cisneros challenges patriarchal hierarchies in Latino/a culture in her work, as well as those grounded in race, class, and gender in US culture more generally. As part of a larger Chicana feminist intellectual critique of gender roles within Latino/a culture, Cisneros’s fiction and poetry examine the social roles for women in marriage and motherhood and identify the archetypal figures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, La Malinche, and La Llorona as sources of oppression within discourse and practice. Innovative in form and language, her work explores the influence of these figures on the lives of women and imagines new, more liberating possibilities in the recuperation of their agency, self-determination, and independence. Cisneros joins this revisionary work with one of her primary thematic concerns, the Chicana writer’s need to break with cultural expectations in order to establish herself and develop her talents. Her innovations in genre and language, such as the hybrid poetic prose used in The House on Mango Street, demonstrate formally the results of a Chicana feminist resistance to class-inflected literary conventions. From the publication of The House on Mango Street (1984) through the poetry collections My Wicked Wicked Ways (1987) and Loose Woman (1994) and the short story collection Woman Hollering Creek (1991), to the publication of Caramelo or Puro Cuento (2002) and her book of essays, A Home of My Own (2014), Cisneros explores with depth and compassion the struggles of Latina women to break down patriarchal conventions and create for themselves a space for self-expression and creativity.

Article

Steven Winduo

English is the main language of writing among Indigenous writers of Oceania for a number of reasons. The various textual appropriations and ways in which language of writing and language of the culture have been infused together to produce texts do reveal a dialogic process at work. It is impossible to avoid the linguistic features of written texts as they are constructed in Oceania. Writers in Oceania are free to choose the language of their texts without any interference. In this way, they make readers aware of the cultural truth that these writers are representing in their writings. Metonymy as a poetic device and cultural truth as a thematic in Indigenous writings capture the interests of many of the older and younger generations of Pacific writers. Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. Some of the best poetry published across Oceania by generations of Pacific writers reveals extensive use of metonymy as a device to convey cultural truth. Poetry is written from the intimate knowledge of poets, embedded in the society in which they find inspiration. Bill Ashcroft and coauthors state: “the tropes of the post-colonial text may be fruitfully read as metonymy, language variance itself in such a text is far more profoundly metonym” because nuances in language can represent a whole cultural text. Syntactic fusion is one among different strategies of appropriation in postcolonial writing such as glossing, untranslated words, interlanguage, code-switching, and vernacular transcription.

Article

The most discussed and cited works of Asian American writing in literary studies include mainly novels, memoirs, short fiction, essays, and plays. To use Sau-ling Wong’s terms Necessity and Extravagance, the study of prose narrative has become a Necessity in the establishment of an Asian American literary canon, while poetry appears to occupy the status of the Extravagant—not excluded, but not as important or basic as prose. However, considering Asian American studies through the framework of not just poetry as a genre but also the poetic as a mode leads to some fresh understandings of canonical narratives, as well as criticism and theory. The power of poetry and the poetic do lie in their alignment with Extravagance, especially in their play with rules and expectations of language, convention, and form. Poems by Asian American writers point to the underside of play, the ways in which play can threaten minority subjects. At the same time the poems enact their own forms of play, through literary allusion and figurative language, for example. Asian American poetry and the Asian American poetic harness the energies of recreation and enjoyment to build and repurpose literary and discursive forms that articulate racial, ethnic, and gendered perils and promises.

Article

The 19th century featured two opposed yet interconnected historical trends: the growth of a multigenerational and deeply rooted Chinese American community; and the development of the cultural prejudices and fears comprised by the Yellow Peril narrative. Those xenophobic fears produced violence, social and political movements, and legal exclusions, culminating in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its many follow-up laws and policies, all designed as much to destroy the existing Chinese American community as to restrict future immigration. But out of that period of exclusion and oppression came some of the first Chinese American literary and cultural works published in both Mandarin/Cantonese and English: the personal and collective poems carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station by detainees; auto-ethnographic memoirs of Chinese American life and community such as Yung Wing’s My Life in China and America (1909); and the journalistic, autobiographical, and fictional works of Edith Maude Eaton/Sui Sin Far, the first Chinese American professional creative writer. These works both reflect and transcend the realities of the Exclusion era, helping contemporary audiences understand those histories, connect them to later Chinese American writers, and analyze the exclusionary debates and proposals of the early 21st century.

Article

Ellen McGrath Smith

This article explores the life and work of writer Grace Paley, whose short stories made their stylistic and thematic marks on the American short fiction genre. Drawing on her multiple identities as an American woman of the World War II generation, a political activist, a lifelong New Yorker, and a Jew born to immigrant parents who had fled oppression in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, Paley’s writing highlights women’s lives and their struggles against established social roles. The article then looks at Paley’s first book, The Little Disturbances of Man: Stories of Women and Men at Love (1959), which established her reputation as a fiction writer. It also considers her subsequent short story collections: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974) and Later the Same Day (1985). In addition to short fiction and essays, Paley has published poetry collections, including Leaning Forward (1985), Begin Again: Collected Poems (2000), and Fidelity (2007).

Article

Sarah Ehlers and Niki Herd

The terms documentary poetry and documentary poetics have been used to describe a diverse range of poetic projects that either make use of historical materials or narrate historical events. In the Anglophone context, the documentary poetry tradition emerged in the late 1920s and coalesced in the 1930s in conjunction with advancements in documentary film and the heightened cultural relevance of documentary photography. The term documentary was first used in an arts context by the Scottish filmmaker John Grierson in his 1926 review of Robert Flaherty’s Moana, and Grierson’s subsequent theorizations of documentary filmmaking depended on ideas about poetry and the poetic. While, as several critics have pointed out, documentary poetry constitutes a long tradition that goes as far back as the poems of Lucretius, Ovid, and Virgil, documentary poetry is largely a 20th-century construction, one that has shifted in relation to major technological changes that transformed the landscape of poetic composition and circulation, ongoing debates over the status of the poetic lyric, and developing ideas about the relationship of poetry writing to capitalist crisis and left political activism. The long-standing critical concern with defining documentary poetry and poetics indexes changing ideas about the relationship between poetry and other historical and political registers. Such critical concerns, however, have often treated documentary poems as if they lack generic distinction or unique formal qualities outside of the incorporation of historical documents or materials. Across the 20th and 21st centuries, documentary poets have innovated in specific modes (e.g., as Jill Magi points out using Bill Nichols’s film theory, the expository, observational, interactive, and reflexive) and forms (especially the paratactical, collage, curatorial, and restricted). Engaging with the terrains of labor precarity, ecological collapse, and widening racial inequities and violence, such forms work in tandem with socially engaged content to address historical and political realities. In the contemporary moment, major contributions to documentary poetic traditions have been from Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) writers who innovate with documentary practices and forms to imagine new spheres of social engagement and world-building in lieu of a singular focus on institutional critique. Contemporary poets addressing the exigencies of the 21st century have also emphasized the long-standing relationship between documentary poetry and social engagement, pointing to social activism and radical pedagogy as defining features of documentary poetry and poetics.