American Poetry

This course was development for 3rd year university students at the Slavyansk State Pedagogical University. Students were studying to become teachers or translators of English or German, with an emphasis in Foreign Literature. This short course was limited to one, 80-minute lecture and one, 80minute seminar. During the lecture, the PCV was asked to introduce major historical trends in America poetry from the founding of the USA until the present. During the seminar, the PCV was asked to focus on major poets of each historical period, their brief biographies, and extracts of their work. This course is recommended for TEFL HE PCVs who find themselves in a situation where there is limited time to teach a subject quite unfamiliar to Ukrainian university students. Additional student self-study and research outside of the lectures and seminars is highly recommended to supplement this course.

Information adapted from An Outline of American Literature, published by the U.S. State Department; Bode, Highlights of American Literature, U.S. Information Agency, Washington D.C. 1995; Muller and Williams, Introduction to Literature, 2nd edition, McGraw-Hill, Inc., USA, 1995; Buscemi and Smith, 75 Readings Plus, 3rd edition, McGraw-Hill, Inc., USA, 1996; various Internet research, and other TEFL HE PCVs manuals on American Literature.

1

American Poetry Lecture
Katherine C. FitzSimons, U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Slavyansk State Pedagogical University, 2007

Post-Revolutionary Period and National Beginnings The American Revolution against Britain (1775-1783) was the first modern war of colonial liberation. The American triumph brought with it new, nationalist hopes of great literature. However, with the exception of the outstanding political works of the time, few literary works of note appeared during or soon after the Revolution; and the literary works that did appear were harshly reviewed in London. This led to the gradual shift in American literary thinking which was the beginning of America’s own cultural revolution. Yet cultural revolutions, unlike military revolutions, cannot be successfully imposed but must grow from the soil of shared experience. Eventually, it would take America an additional 50 years of accumulated history (from about 1800s-1850s) to earn a true cultural independence from Great Britain. The reason this transition was so gradual was because early American writers now separate from England had no access to modern publishing, no audience, and no legal protection. The small, cultivated American audience still wanted well-known British authors that were well circulated and affordable, but the general public did not have the leisure time to spend reading because they were working to survive the American wilderness. However, there was an important landmark in the development of an independent cultural identity with the publication of the first American dictionary in 1806. Its editor, Noah Webster, insisted that American usage was as good as British usage. Because of this and the gradual growth of popular demand for national literature, the country began to develop a more united sense of literary identity. The first American literature was neither American nor really literature. It was the work of mainly immigrants from England escaping religious persecution. It wasn’t in the form of poetry, essays, or fiction, but rather travel accounts and religious writings. After independence, it was extremely difficult for the first American writers to get published. American poets who emerged in the 17th century during the colonial period leading up to independence adapted the style of established European poets to the subject matter they now confronted in a strange, new land. Philip Freneau wrote the first poetry in the United States. One of the first poets in the new nation, his poetry had many traits of the English style. However, his subject matter makes him truly American, as the future of his country was always a subject of interest for him. If Freneau was America’s first nationalist poet, then Williams Cullen Bryant was the nation’s first naturalist poet. He was the first poet to actually be born in America and he wrote his best-known poem “Thanatopsis” when he was just 16. Romantic Period This is the literary period that began in the early 1800s, soon after the American Revolution, and goes up to 1860, just before the Civil War, which began in 1861 and lasted until 1865. This timeframe is generally known as the Romantic Period, named after Romanticism, which was the most dominant style of writing in Europe at that time. When you hear the word “romantic” you generally think about love or strong romantic feelings. While themes of love and romantic relationships may be addressed in romantic 2

In general. The Romantic style was considered to be a reaction against the Enlightenment Movement of the 18th century. and Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. While it is true that American writers were heavily influenced by this European movement. The word “transcendental” comes from the word transcendence. which doubled the size of America. Transcendentalists believed in the power of the human imagination to transcend the limitations of the material world and to commune with the universal. This mass of unexplored. Yet here again we are speaking about how the British inspired this literary movement in America. he accused the church of being too concerned with dogma and acting “as if God were dead. Their emphasis on nature offered what was considered to be one of the first cultural alternatives to American urbanization and materialism. even though the importation of slaves was made illegal in 1808. cities grew bigger. To “transcend” means to “rise above” or “go beyond” something. by the early 1820s this movement took on a specifically American quality. In spite of the importance of the few female literary figures. The Transcendental Movement began as an intellectual movement in New England (Concord. which focused primarily on the importance of science and reason (as characterized by thinkers and writers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson). the transcendentalists found their chief source of inspiration from nature. dehumanizing force in American society. transcendentalists understood god to be a living mystery and as an aspect of everything. The decade just before the Civil War. or to transcend. focused on imagination. and unable to own property. Massachusetts) which was founded and led by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). American women and minorities had suffered and endured many inequalities since the foundation of the American nation. (Romanticism actually began in Germany). This “universal being” was not God in the traditional Puritan sense. and Islamic Sufism. and 3 . “Transcendence” is a kind of divine existence or a state of perfection. and subjectivity. women were still denied the right to vote. particularly found in nature. forbidden to speak in public.” Much of his thought was influenced by his readings in eastern religions: Hinduism. and sentimental fiction. In fact. A speech he made at the Harvard Divinity School made him unwelcome there for 30 years. Some of his other important works were The American Scholar (1837) and Self-Reliance (1841). The states had become solidly unified under state and federal governments. as well as a respect for a greater power beyond human understanding. Confucianism. During this time. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature (1836) was the first major document of this period. the 1850s. Romanticism. Rejecting the popular Puritan thought of the region. In it. was a period of great social reflection and literary activism. in contrast to the liberties and opportunities promised in the political writings of the revolutionary period. America went through some of the greatest challenges in its history— trade and manufacturing were growing. romantic works are not to be confused with love stories. not allowed to enter most professional schools. uncharted territory fueled the imaginations of the writers of this time period. emotion. And. slavery was still a strong. Three types of Romanic literature are: the transcendental writings. Many people of the time accused him of trying to subvert Christianity. however. some of the major characteristics of American Romanticism are: an emphasis on nature and the common man (democracy). an essay in which he asserted the importance of being true to one’s own nature. The American Romantic Movement came at the same time of great westward expansion and a greater solidification of an American political identity. historical fiction. the population soared.literature.

which bring attention to such subjects as the pains and wonders of love. Walt Whitman was determined to be the poet of democracy. little rhyme and irregular rhythm. was published in 1890. Dickinson often reversed meanings of words and phrases to great effect. His poems are as melodious as Bryant’s. He thought he could reach the American people by throwing aside the traditional ornaments and prettiness of verse and creating his own form. not all common men liked Whitman’s new style. some writers questioned the values held by the majority—about dignity of the individual and the importance of making money. four years after her death. who used long lines. Emily Dickinson is one of the most well-known and foremost poets in American literature. mysterious side. He put all social classes of Americans in his poetry and tried to reach everybody. though not in such a violent or frightening way. the irregular instead of the regular. the positive idea that man has the capacity to know the truth and attain knowledge with transcends the senses. but impressive repetition. Some emphasizes her sensitivity to nature. They fused American and European traditions and sought to create shared Atlantic experience. Dickinson’s influence on the public came mostly after her death because she only published 10 of her nearly 2. Many were professors who attempted to educate the general public by introducing a European dimension to American literature. Walt Whitman. He reverted to the technique of using the European model. enjoyed wealth and leisure. They were ironic because they were conservative. James Russell Lowell Dickinson’s poetry was the reverse of Longfellow’s. Poems of Emily Dickinson. most of Poe’s work has nothing to do with America. traveled to or were educated in Europe. and religious belief. focusing greatly on death and the grave. full of powerful images and metaphors. but more dramatic in their effects. Another poet. and abnormal rather than normal love. Dickinson often used variations of meters and rhyme. While most were happy with new-found prosperity and development of the nation. Dickinson explores the dark and mysterious parts of the mind. She continues to be one of the most fascinating and challenging writers in American literature. However. The most important Brahmin poets were: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was known as a Brahmin poet. However. Her short lyrical lines. the horrors of war. This trend emphasizes the individual instead of the group. like Thoreau. He developed a kind of free verse without rhyme or a fixed rhythm.000 poems in her lifetime. Edgar Allen Poe was a major romantic writer who wrote about dying ladies. they were not daring innovators of American literature. Harvard educated. Unlike his contemporaries. The first volume of her work. Not all romantic writers were dark and brooding like Poe. sexuality. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow therefore became the most popular poet of the 19th century.the question of slavery led to civil war between North and South. 4 . others note her dark. Oliver Wendell Holmes. Her work is known for its simplicity of style and common images. sickness. as well as God. the incomprehensible nature of death. Although not the best poet. instead his subjects are universal or exotic. were from the upper class. Longfellow was popular because he wrote with a more traditional form. A nonconformist. The Brahmin Poets were from Boston. Emerson and Thoreau represented Transcendentalism. differed greatly from the style of her contemporary. Like Poe. the wild instead of the tame. Dickinson’s poems continue to intrigue readers and critics. He also pioneered the development of the detective story. while others are drawn to her exotic sensuality.

5 . This poem was an effective warning against materialism and the myth of success. which very few Americans were left unaffected by. poets tended to be divided into traditionalists and innovators. one of the best known poets of the nineteenth century was Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935). in particular. Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) initiated a strong rhythmic poetry. He saw greatness in ordinary man and in man’s capacity to create a society in which inequalities would be erased and dreams reached. Writing during the first quarter of the 20th century is more often than not critical of American society. Three Midwestern poets. ironic character studies of ordinary individuals. the stereotyped American is made fun of. the cultural and economic tensions between the northern and southern states finally erupted in this bloody conflict. however. There is the typical tone of this period—pessimism and disillusionment. many southern cities and towns were completely destroyed. as from the beginning. commits suicide. Sandburg. Though not a member of the Chicago School. And.000 were wounded. The poetry of this school usually focuses on ordinary people—the life of the individual. The tone is satirical. Regionalism was the result of this literary trend.Realism and Reaction The Civil War. wealthy man who. Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was considered by many to be a modern-day Walt Whitman because of his simple. was the official end of that early American idealism and innocence. the two most important poets in the first decade of the 20th century were Edward Arlington Robinson and Carl Sandburg. He is best known for his short. Now. and the American dream is shown to be an illusion. Brought on most importantly by the problem of slavery. since a majority of the battles were fought in the south. cultural and urban centers were being established and made accessible through the greatly efficient railroads. concluded with some notes of optimism. surprisingly. is a breaker of conventions. at the end of the poem. In their opposing ways. They thought to explore the quality of American life and to report on it with truthfulness. made up what was called the “Chicago School” of poetry. by the end of the Civil War. northern businesses were quickly growing. Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) printed his most influential work Spoon River Anthology (1915). child-like rhymes. which experiments with a colloquial style of speech as well as unabashed frankness when addressing issues of sex or sexuality. many writers avoided national themes in favor of local.000 soldiers were killed and roughly 900. Writers started focusing on the differences between the regions rather than the nation in general. And. however. This terrible destruction. Realism was the dominant writing style of this period. His poems represent 19th century idealism and 18th century faith in political and social change. and slavery was abolished. Robinson and Sandburg represent these two styles. His form is free verse with lines of irregular length. Poetry also thrived during this Realist period. Pioneers were continuously settling new territories in the west. looser speech rhythms and no end rhyme. Over 640. However. however. Robinson uses conventional meter and rhyme to paint wry and condensed scenes of man’s responses to a hard life. Even during the war the United States had been growing. meant to be read out loud. through realistic and sometime dramatic techniques they acquired a wide readership. The country quickly began southern reconstruction. regional themes. The entire southern economy was ruined. His best-known poem “Richard Cory” (1869) is about the life of important.

An important battle was fought for the recognition of free verse. A common attitude of the poets of the interwar years was one of rebellion against Victorian poetry—rather than rebelling against what the Victorian had said. this poetry was more intellectual and more related to real life situations. For many years.Modernism and Experimentation: The Period Between the Wars When we left off. usually from poor. and wit to focus on inconsistencies in life. was reluctantly drawn into the conflict—just how reluctantly can be seen through the fact that America was only directly involved in the conflict from 1917-1918. on farms and in cities. Eliot.S. many American writers spent time in Europe and wrote about their experiences as expatriates: e. Harriet Monroe founded “Poetry.e. thus leaving the reader to discover the meaning on his own. By 1941. led to an economic boom—a period known as the “Roaring Twenties. In fact. In contrast to the 19th century. Ezra Pound. This and other factors led to the drastic expansion of urban life. and free verse gradually won acceptance. rural areas. A few other historical factors of this time period were: the progressive activism and moral license of the “Roaring Twenties. American poetry began to turn away from orthodoxy and new 6 . as a byproduct. After WWII. America—in fact. The increased production through technology. irony. they rebelled against how they said it—the conventional poetic techniques used. modernity and material prosperity. and Wallace Stevens all used free verse in their poems. young Americans of the 1920s were the lost generation. which. and harvesters). without coherence. as well as the global economic depression of the 1930s—known as the Great Depression (1929-1933). many people had no work to go back to—machines had replaced the need for manual laborers. which was to have a significant effect on literary output. which was made up of thousands of immigrants with ties to Europe. planters. Walt Whitman. the idea of free verse was old fashioned. without logic… The new poets felt that life was more complicated than the Romantic poets had admitted and they set about to expose its conflicts and contrasts. During and after war-time.” Many families now had disposable income. so named by Gertrude Stein. William Carlos Williams.” the nation-wide prohibition of alcohol—known as Prohibition (19191933). Carl Sandburg. More Americans were going to college. They followed the Imagist poets of the 20th century and believed that poetry should treat its subject directly and that only words. America. the entire globe—was on the brink of world war. In that year. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land (1922) shows western civilization as a bleak desert in desperate need of rain/spiritual renewal. T. people thought that “new poetry” of this era and the term “free verse” were synonyms. the modern industrial society was firmly established and in full swing. came back changed. led to increased enrollment in higher education. Experimentation was common—poetry was tried without punctuation or capitalization. the numerous American soldiers that did go off to war.S. All but the most essential images were eliminated. T. which strengthened the poems should be used. William Carlos Williams. America’s casualties were noticeably less than that of her allies. Despite outward gaiety. after seeing the world and the horrors of war. Cummings. 1912 is the most widely excepted date marking a poetic renaissance and the beginning of modern American poetry. with the increasing use of farming technologies (tractors. Given an additional push by World War II (1941-1945). Needless to say. The interwar poets used humor. many returned veterans had a hard time adjusting to the simple lives they had before the war. However. A Magazine of Verse” which gave a home to new and experimental poets.

This imagist style is highly visual. seeming and being. a collection of poems called The Cantos. Harlem was a fashionable. Therefore. the black writers we have mentioned in previous lectures have only recently been reexamined and treated with new interest. African American writers were able to articulate the ideas and experiences of black Americans. the literary tradition too began to demonstrate elements of change. Langston Hughes was the great poet of the Harlem 7 . Poets of this era used themes of sincerity and opposition —bold.poets realized they needed something more than the standard of the past 30 years. he was a great influence on many of the important writers of his period. unexpected opposites in form. through his letters and correspondence. but the overall effect is to make the meaning implicit. Two characteristics run through much of contemporary American poetry: introspection and social criticism. The Modernist Period is known for the resurgence of American poetry. abrupt. emphasis on science and technology. these poems allude to the history and literature from many cultures and eras. predominately black. concrete images—this style is known as Imagism. An important feature of poetry of this period was the focus on strong. This emergence of minority voices was a key element of the Modernist Movement. western tradition. As America transitioned into a modern industrial state. The Modernist Period is known for its break with the classical. ordinary things and experiences. Very few were known in their time. In many ways. this poetry is not as literal or logical has traditional poetry. in particular the approach to viewpoint (from whose perspective the novel or story is told) and form (the way in which novels were written). and paradox are common tools of the modern poet. The post-WWII poets used colloquial speech to characterize the suburbs and to defy the terrors of modern life. neighborhood in New York City that was the scene of this artistic revival (which lasted throughout the 1920s in conjunction with the Roaring Twenties). which make them virtually indecipherable to the average reader. They focused on the difference between appearance and fact. Much of this literature focuses on the various aspects of modern life: its quickness of pace. However. In the same way that the American literary tradition was established through the Transcendental Movement. as well as growing individual isolation. Though he lived abroad for most of his life. Fueled by the newly popularized jazz music as well as traditional black spirituals (songs and rhymes sung by slaves). This time period is known as the Modernist Period. superficial and essential. which was full of clichés and stock phrases. which brought public awareness to African American culture and literature. this period was also known for its experimental prose. Up to now we have been speaking about African American literature as an undercurrent of the greater American literary tradition—which is partly due to the fact that many black Americans were not writing (hadn’t the freedom or luxury to write). and the ones who were writing were not able to reach large audiences. and in many ways the Modernist Period is synonymous with Modernist Poetry. They insisted on being emotional and personal and telling about WWII with their own voices. His most significant work was really his life work. and realistic. imagist poetry was Ezra Pound (1885-1972). The father of modern. Introspective social criticism means that the poets explores the depths of his own feelings with regard to what appear to him to be the injustices of society. In many ways this writing style continued certain aspects of the Realist Period—vivid descriptions and accurate portrayals of real life (particularly the suffering of ordinary Americans during the Great Depression). the Harlem Renaissance was the cultural and artistic explosion. irony. Words and images are blunt. Though rich and vivid imagery. in contrast to traditional poetry. Many of them found inspiration in everyday. Sarcasm.

6) challenging the notions of decency. contributed to bringing about the end of the Modernist Movement. which is loosely autobiographical. and 9) the deconstruction of language or the breakdown of conventionally accepted rhetorical devises. These factors. this period is characterized mostly by a lack of unity or 8 . 3) the beginning of the counter-culture and Protest Movement in America. However. cummings 2) the use of the “stream of consciousness” technique. as we saw earlier with e. drugs. The Vietnam War. Jack Kerouac was a leading figure in this Beat Movement. 5) the loss of authority or absolute values. who. which primarily took root in San Francisco. however. 7) the attempt to integrate art and everyday life. sex. to the new world’s geopolitical conditions. letting thoughts lead the writing with no necessary plan or plot design. and folkways in his poetry. The name “Beat” or “beatnik” came from Jack Kerouac (1922-1969). e. as I have said. On the Road (1957). enchanted by the popular jazz rhythms of the time thought that “beat. which includes music.” reflected the vibrancy of the period. The Beat Movement. a new geo-political global order. Hughes used blues. rather it was simply reduced to a movement or style among many small currents. though voiced in a kind of cry or moan at what America had become. 2) the beginning of the Cold War.Renaissance. 3) a focus on youth culture. the Cold War. Post-Modernism However. Along with these historical events. the end of World War II brought with it a number of new assumptions and. because. one of first black writers to attempt to make a profitable career out of it. mass media. which was played out through a number of military conflicts such as The Korean War (1950-1953). in fact. and cultural mores. California. capitalism. questions the values of middle-class life through relaying the adventures of displaced beatniks wondering through the US. colloquial speech. 2) the ever present fear and anxiety incited by the Cold War tensions between the US and the Soviet Union. amongst others. finally 4) in spite of the anti-conformist nature of these writings. was the literary beginnings of the counter-culture movement of the 1950s. (1965-1973). was more precisely imposed on this particular group of writers and poets. 3) the exploration of diversity of culture. some common features of these writers’ works are 1) their unwillingness to conform to conventional styles of writing. who. This fracturing suggests that the modernist movement was not ended.” which recalls the image of “pulse. and. He embraces African American jazz rhythms. the technological progress and economic boom that followed WWII was contrasted with serious reflections on 1) the kind of world that could permit the rise of a Hitler and the incalculable suffering he would unleash. 6) exposing the margins of society as well as those who have been marginalized. 8) the blending of genres. sometime ironic or irreverent. there is still evinced a noticeable love of country. This title. spirituals. and homosexuality. that a distinctive feature of post-1950s writing is the seeming non-existence of dominate movements like those we saw in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 2) the response. were reluctant to be labeled as anything in particular. However. it should be noted. that is. 4) an acceptance of fragmentation and discontinuity. and 3) the growing sense of an inner loneliness and alienation felt by many Americans. His best known novel. Some significant features of this time period we will deal with today are 1) American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968). given their anti-conformist views. The experimentalism of the Beats helped to reflect certain elements of postmodernism: 1) the rejection of the distinction between high culture and ordinary life. This brings us to what we will loosely call the Postmodern Period or Postmodernism.

Theodore Roethke. personal styles (based on personal idiosyncrasies). existential. A writer who might write a realist or naturalist text in one instance might in the next produce something Postmodern. For the sake of clarity. it almost exclusively implies the Modernist Period. In the second sense of the meaning. However. The Idiosyncratic Poets are poets who have developed unique. as well as John Berryman. When I say the word “Postmodern” or “Postmodernism” many associations probably come to mind. The prefix “post” simply suggests “after. According to this definition. Post-modernism is that which comes after Modernism—that which is a reaction to the Modernism movement (like Romanticism was to the Enlightenment and Realism was to Romanticism). Adrianne Rich. “Contemporary” implies those writers who are still alive and writing today or those writers who were the contemporaries of writers living today. In this sense of the meaning. when we say “confess.” So. Sylvia Plath. Many of the Idiosyncratic Poets’ writings are quite autobiographical in grotesque and painfully revealing ways. A writer writing in the Post-Modern period of time can only write a postmodern text. this transition. Feminism. though 9 . The first sense refers to how it is defined in contrast to its relationship with Modernism. not a writer. and Multi-ethnic literature. Elizabeth Bishop and others. we are going to divide this movement in half and look at it in the two senses it implies. in this period what is seen is the more specific implementation or deepening of postmodern ideas through a narrowing of focus. While it is true that the word “modern” at times means “contemporary. This is also true about many of the writers we talked about in our previous lecture who are still living and are therefore part of this Contemporary Period.” usually when we use the word “modern” in reference to literature. quite literally.” we imply to admit guilt. and surrealistic writing was (and is being) written. The poet “confesses. Part of the narrowing of this Contemporary Period is the new focus on individual experience. Post-modernism is a bit easier to fit into our linear discussion of literature--that which comes after and reacts to Modernism. These poets are not admitting to being guilty. Today we are going to look at those writers who demonstrate this new focus on much narrower or more specific issues that stem from ethnicity and gender. This is why many of the Idiosyncratic Poets are also considered Confessional Poets. only a text can be postmodern. And it is in this sense that much of the experimental. for example. what complicates identifying writers as Postmodern is that a writer cannot exclusively be considered Postmodern in the way. Contemporary Period: Feminism and Multiculturalism This leads us to the Contemporary Period. In particular. Some writers belong to multiple movements or none at all. While it is true that the radical experimentalism of the sixties and seventies was slowing down. The Idiosyncratic Poets include Anne Sexton. This narrowing of focus is also offset by the fact that writers and poets no longer belong to or represent a specific movement. Confessional poetry deals with personal experiences of the poet. A writer can merely employ postmodernist elements.uniformity. we will be looking at the Idiosyncratic and Confessional Poets. was not characterized by a noticeable refutation or breaking away. Postmodernism not only refers to a reaction to Modernism but also a complete inversion of it. Emerson is considered a Transcendentalist. As opposed to previous shifts from one literary period to the next (like Realism to Modernism and Modernism to Post-Modernism).” Usually. if we can even call it that.

women have worked to create a more equal place for themselves in society. abortion. looks like hate. the implied assumption that white-American. Some feminists may convey an anger or frustration. Feminism explores issues of “gender roles (stereotypes). Because of the issues they raise. and class. implicitly. confessional since they write about their personal experience. it was widely believed that a woman’s place was in the home and her role was to raise children. The continued immigration of the early twentieth century and the fact that immigrants ceased being required to fully integrate (that is. some Ethic writers also address feminist issues. Ethnic literature also questions the popular understanding of social issues like race. publicly sanctioned racism of the first half of the twentieth century. employs deconstructionist thinking and must be understood historically. it brought into the open issues that people had considered to be dirty. English-speaking males are the standard of writing).they do sometimes admit to feeling guilty. Most notably. diverse identity for women that allows them more freedom of choice to become who they want to be in society. like feminism. political office. ethnic literature explores specific issues ethnic communities face. and Marge Piercy are considered feminist poets. In contrast to the overt. the post World War II era. So.” “gender identity. Adrienne Rich. English-speaking Americans) led to the rise of a number of ethnically diverse literary communities. since Harlem Renaissance. no less significant was the influence the American immigrant had on literature. which. some Confessional Poets are also considered feminist writers. Anne Sexton. Ethnic literature was borne out of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Their poetry explores many personal issues the poets have faced. and others may be lesbians. become like white. 10 . at times. and adultery. African American literature. Some multi-ethnic writers are. perhaps. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s and the Women’s Movement.” and “social inequality. menstruation. but to generalize and dismiss this group because of these facts is to miss a key aspect of deconstructionist thinking. and suicide. Multi-ethnic literature. Generally speaking. Not only did this redefine the boundaries of poetry. In many ways Feminist writing must be understood in the context of history. the creation of a new. before it is derided. including laws against sexual discrimination and harassment. particularly in relation to gender and sexuality. Contrary to common stereotypes. sexuality. it should be noted that the feminist movement has contributed greatly to the rights of women. abortion. which questions and challenges the standards and assumptions that inform people’s understanding of social roles. despite the presence of writers like Emily Dickinson. and. has emerged as an essential feature of the American literary landscape. much like the Civil Rights Movement. Though. sex. Many of Sexton’s poems deal with topics were considered taboo. and high power positions.” as well as the standards that have defined what literature or the western canon is--a definition. Yet. racism. and generally. feminism does not mean “man-hating” nor are all feminists lesbians. changes in divorce laws. which. saw noticeable advances and integration of ethnic writers. alcoholism. like failed or troubled relationships. masturbation. More women started to enter the work force. while as the same time bringing into question the ethnocentric and mono-lingual quality of American literature (that is. up to the Contemporary Period. Whereas in American life before the 60’s. did much to improve the lives and opportunities of women in America. for the most part has excluded women. higher education institutions.

I still my old opinion keep. More specifically.” During the Revolutionary War. After his experience as a sailor in the Revolutionary War. FITZSIMONS. it is the earliest American poem to romanticize the Indian as children of nature. 2007 POST-REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD AND NATIONAL BEGINNINGS Philip Freneau (1752-1832) He was an ardent patriot who is still remembered as the “poet of the American Revolution. he turned to newspaper and pamphlet writing. Much of the beauty of his poetry lies in the sounds of the words and the effects created through changes in rhythm. that we give the dead. but had already decided to become a poet while in college. not that the writings are only for the people of the particular communities. these writers are aspiring for equality and harmony between the sexes and races. The following poem was inspired by the fact that some Native American Indians buried their dead in a sitting position. In the end. these writings attempt to inform the public by deconstructing stereotypes in order to more effectively integrate a variety of voices into the American landscape. Point’s out the soul’s eternal sleep. PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER.In conclusion.S. AMERICAN POETRY SEMINAR BY: KATHERINE C. Published in 1788. The posture. he was captured by the British while on sea duty. it should be noted that Feminist and Multi-Ethnic literature is narrow only in the sense that they thematically focus on particular communities of people. The Indian Burying Ground In spite of all the learned have said. Not so the ancients of these lands— 11 . U.

but Bryant treats death as part of nature. And. and a smile And eloquence of beauty. He thought that man should live in such a way that he won’t be afraid to die. Make thee to shudder. in addition to more traditional ones about country versus city life. for his gayer hours She has a voice of gladness. and pall And breathless darkness. that shalt come this way. and treads upon. for action ready bent. half. We can see this view in his most famous nature poem “Thanatopsis”. with a head of stone. surrendering up Thy individual being. which the rude swain Turns with his share. Earth. and say They do not lie. when from life released. that nourished thee. (The title means “view of death” and he wrote it when he was just 16 years old. The hunter still the deer pursues. that steals away Their sharpness ere he is aware. The hunter and the deer. a shade! And long shall timorous fancy see The painted chief. and the depths of air— Comes a still voice—Yet a few days. stranger. Thou. nature. while from all around— Earth and her waters. And not the old ideas gone. And arrows. Activity that knows no rest. His bow. he was born after the Revolutionary War and turned to nature as a source for inspiration. From Thanatopsis To him who in the love of nature holds Communion with her visible forms. On which the curious eye may trace (Now wasted.The Indian. From this idea of nature he developed a view of death. Again is seated with his friends. and love. In habit for the chase arrayed. shall claim Thy growth. for a journey dressed. To be a brother to the insensible rock And to the sluggish clod. and the narrow coffin house. Here still an aged elm aspires. and pointed spear. When thoughts Of the last bitter hour come like a blight Over thy spirit. with her braided hair) And many a barbarous form is seen To chide the man that lingers there. Nor in the embrace of ocean.) To the Puritans.-Go forth. He also wrote a number of poems based on famous events in American history. Can only mean that life is spent. and shroud. and list To nature’s teachings. but here they sit. Here still a lofty rock remains. lost each human trace. The oak Shall send his roots abroad. by wearing rains) The fancies of a ruder race. and painted bowl. William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) Considered American’s first naturalist poet. with a mild And healing sympathy. shall exist Thy image. death was seen as a preliminary to afterlife. under the open sky. and pierce thy mould. and grow sick at heart. o’er moistening dews. nor yet in the cold ground. which represents a sharp break from the Puritan attitude toward man’s final destiny. Bespeak the nature of the soul. Where thy pale form was laid. No fraud upon the dead commit— Observe the swelling turf. and she glides Into his darker musings. she speaks A various language. with many tears. Beneath whose far projecting shade (And which the shepherd still admires) The children of the forest played! There oft a restless Indian queen (Pale Shebah. to be resolved to earth again. And venison. 12 . and thee The all-beholding sun shall see no more In all his course. His imaged birds. shalt thou go To mix forever with the elements. By midnight moons. And Reason’s self shall bow the knee To shadows and delusions here. and sad images Of the stern agony. And shares again the joyous feast.

Poe is not un-American despite his aristocratic disgust with democracy. distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December. And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.ROMANTICISM TRANSCENDENTALISM Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) He is considered the founder of the transcendentalist movement. sleepless narrator. His works have nothing to do with America. and themes of dehumanization. The Raven [First published in 1845] by Edgar Allan Poe Once upon a midnight dreary. alienation and images of death-in-life. Like so many other American writers. there was no firm complex social structure like in Europe – it was every man for himself. He thought about the proper function of literature far more than writers of the past. rapping at my chamber door. meek lover of the good! Find me and turn thy back on heaven. He was a gifted. the use of personal experience. and he left the church. and pass. I am the doubter and the doubt. Eagerly I wished the morrow. Many of his stories prefigure the genres of science fiction. For example. As of some one gently rapping. The reckon ill who leave me out’ When me they fly. Although he finished Harvard Divinity School (a religious education) he began to accuse the church of acting as though God were dead. he was orphaned at an early age. Themes of death-in-life. His strange marriage in 1835 to his first cousin Virginia Clemm. "tapping at my chamber door-Only this and nothing more. to still the beating of my heart. is Poe’s best-known poem. I am the wings. I stood repeating "'Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door-- 13 . Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-While I nodded. He proves that American democracy would produce works that lay bare the deepest hidden parts of the human psyche. In this eerie poem. But thou. Brahma If the red slayer think he slay Or the slain think he is slain. and therefore became a great critic as well as writer of prose and poetry. but instead are about dark things. the haunted. Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) Poe’s short and tragic life was plagued with insecurity. The poem at first confused readers unfamiliar with Brahma. "'Tis some visiter. who has been reading and mourning the death of his “Lost Lenore” at midnight." Ah." I muttered. who was not yet 14 had been interpreted as an attempt to find the stable family life he lacked.” The poem ends in a frozen scene of death-in-life. The Raven (1845). So that now. And one to me are shame and fame. They know not well the subtle ways I keep. Poe accurately described the underside of the American dream of the self-made man and showed the price of materialism and excessive competition – loneliness. His major ideas included the need for a new national vision.--vainly I had sought to borrow From my books surcease of sorrow--sorrow for the lost Lenore-For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-Nameless here for evermore. preference for the exotic. And pine in vain the sacred Seven. In America. And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain Thrilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before. The vanished gods to me appear. horror and fantasy. and turn again. while I pondered. nearly napping. a notion of a cosmic force (not God) and the spiritual insights from eastern religions. weak and weary. is visited by a raven (a bird that eats dead flesh hence a symbol of death) who perches above his door and ominously repeats the poem’s famous refrain “nevermore. especially being buried alive or returning like a vampire from the grave appear in many of his works. the highest Hindu god—the eternal and infinite soul of the universe. the following poem relies on Hindu sources to create a cosmic order beyond the perceptions of mere humans. And I the hymn the Brahmin sings The strong gods pine for my abode. Far or forgot to me is near Shadow and sunlight are the same. but tormented man. suddenly there came a tapping.

but no syllable expressing To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core. thou. In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore. Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before. and take thy form from off my door!" Quoth the Raven. or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore." This I sat engaged in guessing. "Sir." 14 . ghastly. and sat. on this desert land enchanted-On this home by Horror haunted--tell me truly. with mien of lord or lady. upstarting-"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore! Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken!--quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart." And the Raven. and so gently you came rapping. "Doubtless. methought. ah." Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken. ungainly. "thy God hath lent thee--by these angels he hath sent thee Respite--respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore! Quaff. I betook myself to linking Fancy unto fancy. dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before. But the silence was unbroken. This and more I sat divining." "Be that our sign of parting. Desolate. Not the least obeisance made he. yet all undaunted. "Nevermore. For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door-Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door. within the distant Aidenn. still is sitting. long I stood there wondering. "Nevermore. And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted--nevermore! But the Raven. "Lenore!"-Merely this and nothing more. thinking what this ominous bird of yore-What this grim. if bird or devil! By that Heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore-Tell this soul with sorrow laden if. oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!" Quoth the Raven. spoke only That one word. "or Madam. perfumed from an unseen censer Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor." said I. "Though thy crest be shorn and shaven. And so faintly you came tapping. "Nevermore. "Nevermore." Then the bird said "Nevermore. and nothing more. And the only word there spoken was the whispered word. "thing of evil!--prophet still. But.'" But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling. if bird or devil!-Whether Tempter sent. hesitating then no longer. Then the ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling. still is sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door." Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly. This it is and nothing more. "Nevermore. Open here I flung the shutter. the air grew denser. as my Hopes have flown before." I said. But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er She shall press. Doubting.Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door. Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore Of 'Never--nevermore. Then. "art sure no craven. bird or fiend!" I shrieked." said I. But the fact is I was napping. tapping at my chamber door. perched above my chamber door-Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-Perched. upon the velvet sinking.-'Tis the wind and nothing more." Presently my soul grew stronger. what thereat is and this mystery explore-Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore. I implore-Is there--is there balm in Gilead?--tell me--tell me. Though its answer little meaning--little relevancy bore. Let me see. then. "surely that is something at my window lattice. when. not a feather then he fluttered-Till I scarcely more than muttered: "Other friends have flown before-On the morrow he will leave me. With such name as "Nevermore. nevermore! Then." Quoth the Raven." "Prophet!" said I." said I. And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadows on the floor. It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore. as if its soul in that one word he did outpour Nothing farther then he uttered. By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore. gaunt. all my sour within me burning. "Wretch." I cried. fearing. never flitting. Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door. Deep into that darkness peering. Back into the chamber turning. "thing of evil!--prophet still." "Prophet!" said I. "Lenore?" This I whispered. sitting lonely on that placid bust. "what it utters is its only stock and store. with my head at ease reclining On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er. Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!" Quoth the Raven. "Surely. with many a flirt and flutter. truly your forgiveness I implore. I implore!" Quoth the Raven. and an echo murmured back the word. not a minute stopped or stayed he. That I scarce was sure I heard you"--here I opened wide the door-Darkness there and nothing more. and ominous bird of yore Meant in croaking "Nevermore. and the stillness gave no token.

Whitman’s style is very simple and highly sensual (some critics have even made the argument that some of it is highly homosexual).” which was about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the long preface he announced the beginning of a new kind of democratic literature. Like other writers (such as Thoreau) it was largely a string of failures in other professions and (like Poe) a drifting toward literature that eventually led Whitman toward writing. . Like Emerson and Thoreau. The loud vociferations of the street Become an undistinguishable roar. Lay down his burden. He was also a particular source of inspiration to the Beat Movement. While the eternal ages watch and wait. His work speaks boldly of the worth of the individual and the oneness of all humanity. family. nature. He brought European culture to Americans’ attention and dealt with topics like home. which would be simple and unconquerable. London. Mostly self-educated. Whitman was born (and subsequently spent most of his life) in the Long Island area of New York. Whitman’s work was considered to break defiantly with traditional poetic themes and style. The work praised the human body and the physical senses. and cross himself. So. Whitman is another in the line of Northeastern intellects. Kneeling in prayer and not ashamed to pray. And leave my burden at this minster gate. In 1855 Whitman issued the first of many edition of his most famous work of poetry Leaves of Grass.” The symbolic narrator. and upon return to the United States he taught at Harvard University for 18 years.BRAHMIN POETS Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) Longfellow was born in Maine but grew up in Massachusetts. Unlike his Concord contemporaries though. Some of Whitman’s other well-known works are: “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” and “O Capitan! My Captain!. and on the floor Kneel to repeat his paternoster o’er Far off the noises of the world retreat. and religion. which would emerge roughly 100 years later. The most well known poem from this collection is called “Song of Myself. is seen as a reflection of the oneness of humanity. Whitman was viewed by almost all of his “uneducated” family and friends as a lazy individual because of his distaste for physical labor and his tendency to each day take long walks which most people viewed as very unproductive. He went to Europe after college. The tumult of the time disconsolate To inarticulate murmurs dies away. This break signified a great step in the establishment of an American literary identity. Walt Whitman (1819-1892) He is considered one of the greatest and most original American poets. From Divina Commedia I Oft I have seen at some cathedral door A laborer pausing in the dust and heat. He was the most popular American poet in the late 19th century. and with reverent feet Enter. He was the first American to be honored with a statue in poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. as I enter here from day to day. the “I”.

Like Poe. focusing greatly on death and the grave. Walt Whitman. which bring attention to such subjects as the pains and wonders of love. Singing with open mouths their strong. A nonconformist. success – which she thought she never received and failure which she considered he constant companion. you know. too? Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell! They’d banish us. The first volume of her work. The mason singing his as he makes ready for work. the horrors of war. like Thoreau. the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck. Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else. The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat. though not in such a violent or frightening way. who used long lines. Massachusetts into a prominent family. little rhyme and irregular rhythm. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) She was born in Amherst. Love and a lover she never had. After she died. the hatter singing as he stands. Poems of Emily Dickinson. Dickinson often reversed meanings of words and phrases to great effect. melodious songs. Rarely did she ever leave home and only attended college for one year. The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows. the incomprehensible nature of death. Her work is known for its simplicity of style and common images. like a frog To tell your name the livelong day To an admiring bog. differed greatly from the style of her contemporary.800 of her poems. The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench. the plowboy’s on his way in the morning. each one singing his. Dickinson’s poems continue to intrigue readers and critics. was published in 1890. robust. as it should be blithe and strong. or at noon intermission. or of the girl sewing or washing. How dreary to be somebody! How public. nature. Dickinson often used variations of meters and rhyme. The wood-cutter’s song. I’m Nobody I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody. She began her writing at home and without much studying or formal education. She never was married and spent her time at home. the varied carols I hear. Dickinson explores the dark and mysterious parts of the mind. and religious belief. Her short lyrical lines. friendly. as well as God. or leaves off work. her sister found more than 1. The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam. Only seven of her poems were published in her lifetime and it wasn’t until later that she is now ranked as one of the best of America’s poets.I Hear America Singing I hear America singing. full of powerful images and metaphors. or of the young wife at work. or at sundown The delicious singing of the mother. Those of mechanics. mortality and immortality. She writes about some of the most important things in her life. sexuality. REALISM AND REACTION . four years after her death. She is one of the most well-known and foremost poets in American literature.

He was very aware of man’s spiritual side and not interested in the surface aspects of man’s life. President Roosevelt discovered his poetry and helped Robinson get a job in a Customs House. . failure consists only in a lack of effort. He couldn’t be successful enough as just a writer. represents Robinson’s best-known statement on the hollowness of conventional success. Sandburg went on to write an impressive biography of Abraham Lincoln. when American was rebuilding and changing and growing more materialistic. historian. Sandburg recited many of his poems by singing them. He grew up in a small town in Maine. A journalist by profession. musician. so he took a job loading shale during the building of the New York subway system. The poems “Chicago” and “The Harbor” are two fine examples of his short but powerful style. biographer. “Richard Cory”. richer than a king. After studying at Harvard. he began popular and won the Pulitzer Prize three times in the 1920s. So on we worked. he moved to New York because he was too miserable to stay at home in Maine. He wrote urban and patriotic poems with simple and childlike rhymes in the style of Walt Whitman. and cursed the bread. essayist. "Good-morning. But still he fluttered pulses when he said. which later furnished the setting for many of his poems and characters. who won the Prize four times. husky. Then. living at the time following the Civil War. one calm summer night. And he was always quietly arrayed. We people on the pavement looked at him: He was a gentleman from sole to crown. Stacker of Wheat. And went without the meat. And he was rich—yes. Richard Cory WHENEVER Richard Cory went down town. With the poetic revival after WWI. Poet. He felt alienated from his family and society. we thought that he was everything To make us wish that we were in his place.THE “CHICAGO” SCHOOL OF POETRY Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) He was born in Illinois of Swedish immigrant parents. Clean favored." and he glittered when he walked. The core of his philosophy is that man’s highest duty is to develop his best attributes. Excerpt from Chicago Hog Butcher for the World. And Richard Cory. Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler. novelist. he puts an end to it. Went home and put a bullet through his head. Stormy. and imperially slim. brawling. City of the Big Shoulders… Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) He was a poet of transition. The following poem. Sandburg was the son of a railroad blacksmith. Tool Maker. And admirably schooled in every grace: In fine. And he was always human when he talked. a record only exceeded by Frost. and waited for the light. Since Cory knows his life is worthless in spite of his success.

in many ways characterize this period of poetic expression. While his poetry often appeared to be complex.” Though rich and vivid imagery. and contains such lines as: “The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world. e. which he wrote and published until his death. In a Station of the Metro (1916) Inspired by Japanese haiku The apparition of these faces in the crowd. black bough. . Yet it was the form of his writing that was the most unconventional. the themes were often common. he was a great influence on many of the important writers of his period. And drank rapidly a glass of water. Next To Of Course God America I “next to of course god america I love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh say can you see by the dawn’s early my country ‘tis of centuries come and go and are no more what of it we should worry in every language even deafanddumb thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry by jingo by gee by gosh by gum why talk of beauty what could be more beautiful than these heroic happy dead who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter they did not stop to think they died instead then shall the voice of liberty be mute?” He spoke. spelling. Pound’s 1914 anthology (collection of works) of ten poets “Des Imagistes” offers examples of Imagist poetry by outstanding poets like William Carlos Williams. Ezra Pound (1885-1972) The father of modern. as well as doing away with other grammatical rules of punctuation. Like Williams. and at times romantic (in the tradition of Transcendentalists). His was known for taking creative liberties with his syntax and layout. as well as the use of capital letters (as seen in the way he wrote his name). cummings (1894-1962) He was one of the most innovative and celebrated poets of his generation. and Amy Lowell. The playfulness and strangeness of his poems. a collection of poems called The Cantos. Petals on a wet. His most significant work was really his life work. through his letters and correspondence. Cummings was even known to invent new words. Hilda Doolittle. he also used colloquial language and powerful images.MODERNISM AND EXPERIMENTATION THE PERIOD BETWEEN THE WARS (1914-1945) e. which make them virtually indecipherable to the average reader. which was clear and highly visual. Pound helped to create a new style of poetry known as Imagism. He was a link between the United States and Britain and even worked as a secretary for the famous British writer William Butler Yeats. He believed poetry should avoid set clichés and phrases. Though he lived abroad for most of his life. these poems allude to the history and literature from many cultures and eras. Imagist poetry was Ezra Pound. Pound was one of the most influential American poets of this century.

Alfred Prufrock” (1915) is an excellent example of “objective correlative”. Eliot attended Harvard. a situation. He went to England. and Oxford University. the Sorbonne. Frost was born in California but raised on a farm in the Northeastern United States. and. His poems are of the modernist style. His poetry was considered highly experimental and innovative for its time. He is best remembered for his formulation of the “objective correlative. stone walls. The only other sound’s the sweep . illogical and abstract. Alfred Prufrock Let us go then. which influenced his poetry. “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit. As a professional poet he not only enjoyed success in both England and in the US. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Whose woods these are I think I know. his poems are full of images and allusions to classical literature. “Gerontion” (1920). Two of his most popular poems are “The Road Not Taken” (1916) and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923). and “Ash-Wednesday” (1930). And while his poetry was superficially simple. Known for his deceptively simple poetry (using common images like apple picking. national interest in poetry). Frost was one of the last American poets to employ traditional rhyme and meter. through certain half-deserted streets. “The Waste Land” (1922). and paths through woods). though. do not ask. When the evening is spread across the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table. For example. they were full of deeper meaning. Eliot was born to a well-to-do family in Missouri and received the best education of any major American writer of the time. like Pound. Some of his most significant poems are “The Love Song of J. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. he was also seen as a commanding literary figure. Beginning of The Love Song of J. you and I. He will not see me stopping here He gives his harness bells a shake To ask is there is some mistake. Eliot uses the image of coffee spoons to reflect the boring existence and the wasted life of Prufrock. Let us go. he was able to attract a wide readership. Kennedy’s inauguration. His house is in the village.T. Eliot (1888-1965) He was one of the most well educated poets of this period.” which he described in The Sacred Wood as a means of expressing emotion through a set of objects. S. Alfred Prufrock” (1915). attracted by new movements in poetry there. The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question… Oh. Robert Frost (1874-1963) He was a key figure in this revival of American poetry (he in fact read an original poem at President John F. Unlike his modernist contemporaries. or a chain of events that would be the formula for that particular emotion. which was something Americans were not used to and helped to spark a new. He studied Sanskrit and Oriental philosophy.

And miles to go before I sleep. here and there. Williams was known to write poems on prescription pads. many of his poems deal with unimaginative lives. People are not going To dream of baboons and periwinkles. Or green with yellow rings. Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) He wrote poetry most of his life.Williams was a practicing children’s doctor and delivered more than 2.” Born in Pennsylvania.To watch his woods fill up with snow. an old sailor. In fact. Catches tigers In red weather. None of them are strange. Stevens was educated at Harvard and New York University Law School. Or purple with green rings. None are green. Drunk and asleep in his boots.Of easy wind and downy flake. Or yellow with blue rings. His poetry dwells upon themes of imagination. and that a seemingly dull life is actually full of color. He favors Imagism and colloquial speech. He wrote poetry on his doctor’s prescription pads. He practiced law in New York City and then became an insurance executive. but his business acquaintances did not know he wrote poetry. Stevens was an insurance executive who wrote poems in his spare time. Unlike Frost. William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) He was not what one might consider a professional poet. Probably from his experience in the insurance business.” and “The Idea of Order at Key West. but he did not publicly enter the poetry scene until he was well into his 40s.000 babies. Only. and uses a kind of natural rhythm. maybe in dreams. And miles to go before I sleep. Williams’ relaxed style and spontaneity is seen as an influence on the Beat writers of the 1950s. The woods are lovely. His poems are know for their humor as well as using a range of images—from elements of popular culture to lush tropical scenes. and belief that the order of art corresponds to the order of nature. Some of his best-known poems are “Sunday Morning. Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock (1931) The houses are haunted By white night-gowns. he strongly broke with traditionally popular meter. dark and deep. With socks of lace And beaded ceintures. His work uses strong images. In many ways his poems are like quick simple descriptions of ordinary objects like a wheelbarrow or a bowl of plumbs (from his poems “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is just to say”). My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. But I have promises to keep. is known for colloquial speech.” “The Emperor of Ice-Cream. As a practicing pediatrician who delivered over 2000 babies. In his poem “Disillusionment at ten O’Clock” Stevens shows that the human imagination will always find a creative outlet. necessity for form. As seen in his poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” .

My soul has grown deep like the rivers. objects. which was still rife in America. dusky rivers. Hughes was seen as a cultural organizer and leader. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. authoring black literary anthologies and setting up black theater groups in Los Angeles. Many of his poems are full of sharp social commentary concerning racial inequality. but he was able to create an . colloquial speech. and New York. will endure and deepen. and jazz rhythms. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. Hughes was the first African American writer to be able to live off his writing. Williams influenced the Beat poets and believed that poetry should be relaxed and natural instead of a perfect piece of art. and events. He incorporated blues.Williams finds interest and beauty in everyday people. and folkways into his poetry. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. His work is significant because it served to galvanize and unify the African American community.” which suggests that African culture. Hughes explored the joys and suffering of the black experience in America. Chicago. spirituals. One of his most beloved poems is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers. poems should capture an instant of time in the way that a photograph does. The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1921. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. He is one of the first black writers to embrace his African-ness—the heritage and cultural identity with Africa. Evoking the spirit of the “blues” (a style of music similar to jazz). visual objects. THE ANTI-TRADITION Robert Lowell (1917-1977) (also known as a “Confessional” poet) Lowell began traditionally but became influenced by experimental currents. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans. He called his writing “objectivist” because of the importance of concrete. and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset I’ve known rivers Ancient. The Red Wheelbarrow (1923) So much depends Upon A red wheel Barrow Glazed with rain Water Beside the white Chickens HARLEM RENAISSANCE Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was probably the most well known writer of the Harlem Renaissance. traditional spirituals. just like the great rivers of the world. Lowell was well educated and linked with the political and social establishment. 1925) I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

Stubbed before-breakfast cigarettes Burn bull’s-eyes on the bedside table. telephone book. and he later publicly protested the Vietnam War as well.” When he became an anti-traditionalist. hiss. the whale’s Warm-hearted blubber. foundering down Leagues of ocean. The milk turns to junket in the cornflakes bowl. The violence contained in his early work is overpowering in poems like “Children of Light” (1946) which tells the harsh story of Puritans who killed Indians and whose descendents burned surplus grain instead of shipping it to hungry people: “Our fathers wrung their bread from stocks and stones/ And fences their gardens with the Redman’s bones. Beseeching freedom from the Garden’s Perfect and ponderous bubble. No voice Outsings the serpent’s flawed. The Drinker The man is killing time—there’s nothing else. The lines snap tight. calendar Even its cork sucked under. He looks at her engagements inked on her A list of indictments. gasping whiteness. Her absence hisses like steam. When he looks for neighbors. their names blur in the window. Car keys and razor blades Shine in an ashtray. His despair has the galvanized color Of the mop and water in the galvanized bucket. The pipes sing… Even corroded metal somehow He snores in his iron lung. No help now from the fifth of Bourbon Chucked helter-skelter into the river. functions. No help from his body. he wrote “Life Studies” (1959) which initiated a new style called “confessional poetry” because he bared his most tormenting personal problems with honesty and intensity. He was put in jail for a year for objecting to WWII. Is he killing time? Out on the street. and hears the voice of Eve. The barbed hooks fester.identity outside of this background. He won a Pulitzer Prize for “Lord Weary’s Castle” (1946). His distracted eyes see only glass sky. His style mixes the human with the majestic. At the numbers in her thumbed black A quiver full of arrows. Two cops on horseback clop through the April rain To check the parking meter violations— Their oilskins yellow as forsythia. euphoric The cheese wilts in the rat-trap. . Once she was close to him As water to the dead metal. A plastic tumbler of alka seltzer Champagnes in the bathroom.

but who can tell us how? The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair. and take my waking slow. which explore his Jewish heritage. And is near. I wake to sleep. After graduating from Harvard. and take my waking slow. so take the lively air. The poem deals with the themes of a deep sense of morning for America. lyrical. California in the 1950s. angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. Beat poetry is oral. is a kind of emotive stream of words (which employs the “stream of consciousness” technique) that is seen as a kind of anthem of beats. a forerunner of modern-day rap music. won the National Book Award in 1959. And learn by going where I have to go. and meant to be recited during poetry readings in underground clubs. sexuality and drugs. I wake to sleep. and take my waking slow. which are you? God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there. Howl (1956) I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness. dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. I wake to sleep. “Words For The Wind”. lovely. in line with beat themes. Howl (1956). Great Nature has another thing to do To you and me. or beatniks. He faces up to the terrors of modern life by expressing a joyful defiance to them. repetitive.Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) (also considered to be an “Idiosyncratic” poet) He grew up in Michigan and helped his father with the family flower business. Light takes the Tree. His volume of poetry “The Waking: Poems 1933-1953” won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. learn by going where to go. The poetry is a cry of pain and rage at what the poets see as America’s loss of innocence and a tragic waste of human and material resources. His work. Ginsberg revolutionized traditional poetry with his beatnik style. I learn by going where I have to go. What is there to know? I hear my being dance from ear to ear. . BEAT POETS Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) He was a leading voice of this Beat Movement. His works have been called personal. I learn by going where I have to go. and Reality Sandwiches (1963). starving hysterical naked. Some of his other works include Kaddish and other Poems (1961). is known for addressing controversial issues and taboo subjects. who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of coldwater flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz. This shaking keeps me steady. The Waking I wake to sleep. And. We think by feeling. He manipulates rhyme and rhythm so skillfully that the reader often senses the emotion of the poem before understanding it intellectually. Of those so close beside me. which is how he developed a love of nature. and take my waking slow. What falls away is always. Most of the Beat Poets. and spontaneous. he taught in a number of universities and continued to write while teaching. like Ginsberg migrated from the East Coast to San Francisco. I should know. His most significant poem. and his collected poems. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

with waking nightmares. if you surrender to it. Some of his other works include World Enough and Time (1950). Warren’s best-known work is his novel All the King’s Men (1946). democracy. as well as his collection of poetry Now and Then: Poems 1976-1979 (1979). criticisms. Long. Masts at Dawn Past second cock-crow yacht masts in the harbor go slowly white. have discovered our unworthiness. plays. and Long since the moon sank and the English Finished fornicating in their ketches. Your peace is the sea’s will. with drugs. but short stories. as well as the tension between present and past. Willie Stark. like An old window pane flat on black ground by the wall. dire and melodious.who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated. POST-MODERNISM Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) He was one of the most prolific writers of this Post-modern period. who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear. Moving away from the classical themes and the image centered-ness of the modernist period. who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York. last called. which is a study of a powerful southern governor. but at dark wind rose easterly. who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war. you may. but the stars show a certain fatigue. burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall. in the act. this text explores man’s corruptibility in light of power. alcohol and cock and endless balls. and text books. of mystic unity with that rhythm. Huey P. Much of Warren’s work deals with the theme of self-understanding. It neither Receives nor gives light. who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull. the bay-face is glossy in darkness. white sea nagged the black harbor headland. They withdraw into a new distance. Warren was the first Poet Laureate of the United States. who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley. in the dark eucalyptus. death. In the evening there was a strong swell. or purgatoried their torsos night after night with dreams. But now no motion. who was modeled after the historical Louisiana politician. It is long since The owl. Red died the sun. The Cave (1959). essays. No light in the east yet. near the ash heap. When there is a strong swell. Now is the hour when the sea . As a true man of letters he wrote not only novels and poems. experience A sense.

as light. now floats free. like dew. She also wrote a collection of verse entitled Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (1971). on metal. the masts go white.) Born Marguerita Johnson. Your hand a carved and A continent to build Skimming boat With Black Man’s brawn Goes down the Nile I sit at home and see it all To point out Pharoah’s tomb. actress. short stories. from darkness Condensed on them. Soon In the inland glen wakes the dawn-dove. The drowned cat That on the evening swell had kept nudging the piles of the pier and had seemed To want to climb out and lick itself dry. closed. It doubts its own mission.Sinks into meditation. including drama and her wellknown memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). and poems. Angelou was selected to write a poem for the presidential inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. in the end. The sound of the engine of the first fishing dory dies seaward. Her collection of poetry. Through you. making her the second black poet to receive a Pulitzer. in darkness. it is like An eyelid. Jr. in God. for The masts go white slow. Rita Dove (1952. Maya Angelou spent most of her childhood in Stamps. On that surface a slight convexity only. Copper’s brackish hue. Angelou’s writings have taken various literary forms. Contemporary black Americans have produced many poems of great beauty and considerable range of themes and tones. You must learn to accept the kiss of fate. Dew whitens in darkness. on oiled wood. It is the most developed ethnic writing in America and is extremely diverse. and writer. To A Husband Your voice at times a fist You’re Africa to me Tight in your throat At brightest dawn Jabs ceaselessly at phantoms The Congo’s green and In the room. I lie in my bed and think how. “Thomas and Beulah”. where her family owned the general store that began the setting for “Grandmother’s Victory. CONTEMPORARY: MULTICULTURALISM AND FEMINISM BLACK AMERICAN POETS Maya Angelou (1928.” the fifth chapter of her autobiography. In this prize-winning work she celebrates her . She was active in the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King. After a difficult childhood.) She has been a professor of creative writing and writes novels. in darkness. won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. We must try To love so well the world that we may believe. Arkansas. Angelou became a dancer.

grandparents though a series of lyric poems. and sustaining her culture. The Crown of Columbus (1992). and poverty on the reservation. Silko achieves a Japanese haiku-like resonance in the poem “In Cold Storm Light” (1981) In Cold Storm Light Out of the thick ice sky Running swiftly Pounding Swirling above the treetops Louise Erdrich (1954. Silko is preoccupied with the act. She is a poet. They depict Native American families coping with alcoholism. lyrical poems. Lady Freedom Among Us don't lower your eyes or stare straight ahead to where you think you ought to be going don't mutter oh no not another one get a job fly a kite go bury a bone with her old fashioned sandals with her leaden skirts with her stained cheeks and whiskers and heaped up trinkets she has risen among us in blunt reproach she has fitted her hair under a hand-me-down cap and spruced it up with feathers and stars slung over her shoulder she bears the rainbowed layers of charity and murmurs all of you even the least of you don't cross to the other side of the square don't think another item to fit on a tourist's agenda consider her drenched gaze her shining brow she who has brought mercy back into the streets and will not retire politely to the potter's field having assumed the thick skin of this town its gritted exhaust its sunscorch and blear she rests in her weathered plumage bigboned resolute don't think you can ever forget her don't even try she's not going to budge no choice but to grant her space crown her with sky for she is one of the many and she is each of us NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN POETS Leslie Marmon Silko (1948. Moving. and with her husband.) A Native American who is part of the Laguna Pueblo. moving White song Storm wind in the branches. who is the speaker. remembers how this uncle had .) The snow elk come. New Mexico. Silko writes poetry that uses colloquial language and traditional stories to fashion haunting. process. of mixed ancestry and still lives with her husband and children on a Native American reservation. the abused niece. She was named poet laureate of the Unites State in 1993. preserving memories. unemployment. abusive uncle returns from years in the city. Erdrich is of Chippewa and German-American descent and grew up in North Dakota. As he suffers from heart disease. She is the author of Love Medicine (1984). She said the work is meant to reveal the rich inner lives of poor people. and ritual of storytelling as a way of celebrating tradition. The Beet Queen (1986) and Tracks (1988). Silko was born in Albuquerque. In “Family Reunion” (1984) a drunken. essayist and novelist who creates powerful dramatic monologues that work like compressed dramas.

She expresses her solidarity with Asian women.killed a large turtle years before by stuffing it with a firecracker. And The angels come Lowering their slings and litters. and declares that “an epic corrido” chants through her veins. an anthology of Japanese American writing. The gray fins that His hands have become Screw their bones in the dash Board. stumbling on my tongue I stare at my reflection in the mirror brown skin. a press mainly devoted to Chicano literature. Fuji on his back/Tule Lake on his chest hacked through the brush of deserts and made them grow strawberries we stole berries from the stem we could not afford them for breakfast his eyes held nothing as we whipped us for stealing. MEXICAN-AMERICAN “CHICANO” POETS Lorna Dee Cervantes (1954. She talks about Japanese Americans. oral ballad). or a third-generation Japanese American. Uncle Ray Sings an old song to the body That pulls him Toward home. Refugee Ship wet like cornstarch I slide past mi abuelita’s eyes bible placed by her side she removes her glasses the pudding thickens mama raised me with no language I am an orphan to my spanish name the words are foreign. Family Reunion Somehow we find our way back. or a Creature that has lived For a long time under water. wordless he sold the rich full berries to hakujin whose children . who. the desert had dried his soul. were taken to WWII relocation camps. The end of the poem links uncle Ray with the turtle he has victimized. one at Tule Lake. California and founded Mango Publications. For My Father He came over the ocean carrying Mt. Her poems pay tribute to anonymous poor immigrants from Asia who filled “the sweatshops and the laundries” of America. black hair I feel I am a captive aboard a refugee ship a ship that will never dock a ship that will never dock ASIAN-AMERICAN POETS Janice Mirikitani She is a sansei. and the editor of “Ayumi”.) She was born in San Francisco. like her father. (A corrido is the Spanish word for a rich. His face Has the odd. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1978. calm patience of a Child who has always Let bad wounds alone. She often uses Spanish words in her poems and recalls the grandeur of Mexico in her poems.

Her awards include a fellowship from the Literature Program of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Literature Award from the (Massachusetts) Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. A woman’s sexual identity and individual personality in contemporary society are in conflict with these outer forces that attempt to determine who and what she is. and human relationships. Your strength was a stranger i could never touch. personal. The subjects of many of her poems are objects and experiences in the natural world. She was the first member of her family to attend college.pointed at our eyes they ate fresh strawberries on corn flakes. FEMINISTS Marge Piercy (1936. iron in your eyes to shield the pain to shield desert-like wind from patches of strawberries grown from tears. A central theme in her work is the powerful tension between one’s inner identity and the force of outer. social. sex. She graduated and went on to earn a Master’s Degree from Northwestern University. Father. but also a novelist and essayist and has published at least fifteen books of poetry and fifteen novels.) Born in Michigan. and cultural pressures. Barbie Doll . as well as love. i wanted to scream at your silence. she is not only a poet.

To every woman a happy ending. Then in the magic of puberty. diet.This girlchild was born as usual and presented dolls that did pee-pee and miniature GE stoves and irons and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy. exercise. 29 . She went to and fro apologizing. tested intelligent. Consummation at last. Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs. exhorted to come on hearty. Her good nature wore out like a fan belt. smile and wheedle. dressed in a pink and white nightie. In the casket displayed on satin she lay with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on. So she cut off her nose and her legs and offered them up. She was advised to play coy. Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said. a classmate said: You have a great big nose and fat legs. possessed strong arms and back. a turned-up putty nose. She was healthy. abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.