American Quarterly, which at the time was the true home in print of the surging postwar “American Studies” (or: “American Civilization”) movement in academe, sought out poet Louise Bogan to write a short summary of “Modernism in American Literature.” It was published in the Summer 1950 issue. Bogan (1897-1970) was very loosely associated with Euro-American poetic modernism of the 1920s, and perhaps it helped that her first book was published in 1923, the time of Harmonium. Her particular Eliot was the writer who’d discovered a modern mode as part of a “personal point of departure [from] Elizabeth drama and the irony of Jules Laforgue.” She admired the way Yeats and Pound “achieved modernity” yet happily distinguished them from the real thing: “Eliot,” on the other hand, “was modern from the start.”
Bogan, in my view, was essentially done as a poet of significance in 1941, by which time, in any case, most of her poems had been published. She stayed with us a long time, though, and that’s because she’d been hired by the New Yorker to be their main poetry reviewer, holding that powerful position for 38 years, until 1969. I suspect most poetry people would thus know her from the byline on all those short New Yorker notices. (There is, to be sure, a corridor in the house of poetry along which Bogan is said to be “the most accomplished woman poet of the twentieth century.” So begins the introductory note on her at the Poetry Foundation web site.)
In philosophy and art humanity is no longer worthy of our enquiry or representation. Philosophy as an attention to human problems must yield to science dealing with mechanical masses of non-human material. The questions of medicine, hygiene and psychology are being relegated gradually to physiology. Art no longer attempts to mirror man, or the things in nature as seen by man, but depicts unrecognisable patterns which are like nothing on earth—lines, cubes, inhuman designs. The art of representing visible likeness is relegated to the science of photography. The philosophies and arts of one age are the exact sciences of the next. Philosophy, searching for what is true, and art, searching for what is new, may be discovered as being always out in front of society, in the vanguard; while the sciences and industries—the more utilitarian and moralistic activities—may be considered as forming the main body of the army, moving into the positions the spearhead establishes. This division of labour is rarely seen operating on a large scale, but viewing the world as a whole it will be seen that the humanism which has inspired so many of the great philosophers and artists of the past is a goal attained. We have arrived at humanity; there is work for science, enormous work—but the vanguard has to look to new goals ahead. — Harry Hooton, excerpt from "Problems are Flowers and Fade," from Things You See When You Haven't Got a Gun, self-published booklet, 1943.
Over the last few months, Harry Hooton has been on my mind. His name has been mentioned a number of times as I have progressed through this archival project, and on my first visit to Amanda Stewart's house she lent me a copy of Poet of the 21st Century: Harry Hooton, Collected Poems, selected and introduced by Sasha Soldatow and published by Angus & Robertson in 1990. I didn't open the book until I knew I could take it to bed and read it entirely. My gut told me Harry and Sasha would eat me, my night, my bed, effortlessly. And they did!
Ask an expert. Hmm. If you want to find a cogent explanation of the difference between late modernism and postmodernism, don't by any means go to TutorDaily.info. The site announces that it's "a place to ask questions about Learning and Teaching." Someone, presumably a student somewhere grappling with a paper assignment, posted this question: "What are the differences between Late Modernism and Post-Modernism?" And here is the response: "To put it simple, late modernism is the easiest form of modernism and post-modernism is a more fine sort of painting."
This essay on modernist poetry at the end of the lecture is now available through the Selected Works site. Many thanks to Peter Middleton and Nicky Marsh for commissioning it and for fabulous editorial and other advice along the way. Thanks also to Julia Bloch, whose class session on the sounds of Amiri Baraka was inspirational.
About a decade ago I recorded a mini-lecture about the transition from the American poetry of the 1920s to that of the 1930s. It gives some obvious dramatic examples of big changes, e.g. Isidor Schneider's move from latter-day imagist in the mid-1920s to communist poet of the 1930s. I left out any nuance here, but then the nuance became the subject of my most recent book, which in a sense refutes the standard description of the big change ("from modernism to radicalism"). However, I do stand by this little audio mini-lecture as a first foray into the topic for my students. And naturally, in the course, we read lots of examples.
I have an essay in this forthcoming book, and am excited to keep such good company. I expect the book won't be out for another year. And I'm probably jumping the gun in posting the contents but I'll wait 'til someone tells me to take it down. You'll get the gist of what's in it, anyway. (Below at right: Cary Nelson.)
The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry
Edited by Cary Nelson
1. A Century of Innovation: American Poetry from 1900 to the Present Cary Nelson
2. Social Texts and Poetic Texts: Poetry and Cultural Studies Rachel Blau DuPlessis
3. American Indian Poetry at the Dawn of Modernism Robert Dale Parker
4. “Jeweled Bindings”: Modernist Women’s Poetry and the Limits of Sentimentality Melissa Girard
5. Hired Men and Hired Women: Modern American Poetry and the Labor Problem John Marsh
6. Economics and Gender in Mina Loy, Lola Ridge, and Marianne Moore Linda A. Kinnahan
7. Poetry and Rhetoric: Modernism and Beyond Peter Nicholls
8. Cézanne’s Ideal of “Realization”: A Useful Analogy for the Spirit of Modernity in American Poetry Charles Altieri
9. Stepping Out, Sitting In: Modern Poetry’s Counterpoint with Jazz and the Blues Edward Brunner
10. Out With the Crowd: Modern American Poets Speaking to Mass Culture Tim Newcomb
11. Exquisite Corpse: Surrealist Influence on the American Poetry Scene, 1920-1960 Susan Rosenbaum
12. Material Concerns: Incidental Poetry, Popular Culture, and Ordinary Readers in Modern America Mike Chasar
13. “With Ambush and Stratagem”: American Poetry in the Age of Pure War Philip Metres
14. The Fight and the Fiddle in Twentieth-Century African American Poetry Karen Jackson Ford
15. Asian American Poetry Josephine Park
16. “The Pardon of Speech”: The Psychoanalysis of Modern American Poetry Walter Kalaidjian
17. American Poetry, Prayer, and the News Jahan Ramazani
18. The Tranquilized Fifties: Forms of Dissent in Postwar American Poetry Michael Thurston
19. The End of the End of Poetic Ideology, 1960 Al Filreis
20. Fieldwork in New American Poetry: From Cosmology to Discourse Lytle Shaw
21. “Do our chains offend you?”: The Poetry of American Political Prisoners Mark W. Van Wienen
22. Disability Poetics Michael Davidson
23. Green Reading: Modern and Contemporary American Poetry and Environmental Criticism Lynn Keller
24. Transnationalism and Diaspora in American Poetry Timothy Yu
25. “Internationally Known”: The Black Arts Movement and U.S. Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop James Smethurst
A few years ago John Serio was asked to edit the Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens and expressed the hope that I'd summarize what I'd learned over the years about Stevens' response to the radical-left poetics of the 1930s, so I wrote a short paper (10 pages in print) and it appeared in that very good volume. Today I uploaded a PDF copy to my "Selected Works" site: here's the essay.
Lately I've been reading the blog of the Beinecke Library, called "Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities." I took special note of a recent gift made to the Beinecke: H.D.'s writing desk. Its provenance seems significant, but no one knows for sure. H.D. biographer Barbara Guest: "Said to be Christina Rosetti’s, it may originally have belonged to Empress Eugenie, who spent several years in exile in England. Bryher bought the desk for H. D. at the estate sale of Violet Hunt” (Herself Defined, 56). In the photo of the desk, in its new place in New Haven, we see a portrait H.D.'s friend and literary executor (and longtime Yale English faculty member) Norman Holmes Pearson.