Shaping Free Verse: American Prosody and Poetics 1880-1920.
Abstract: Abstract Shaping Free Verse: American Prosody and Poetics 1880-1920
This dissertation reveals the untold history of free verse in the United States. Current
accounts of the genre contend that free verse was a response to the metrical homogeneity of
poetry at the turn into the twentieth century, and that it revitalized a dying art form. I
show that these teleological histories misrepr... read moreesent both the state of poetry at the end of
the nineteenth century and the impulses that underwrote free verse experiments. I focus on
the crucial (and crucially understudied) role that academics and critics played in
promoting free verse to show that early discussions of the genre were driven by an ideal of
American identity. I argue that nineteenth-century literary scholars abstracted national
and racial identities into verse traits, and that twentieth-century critics turned this set
of ideas about the connections between communities and poetic forms into the genre of free
verse poetry. My first chapter, "Communities in Verse," analyzes the work of Francis Barton
Gummere and Richard Moulton, who distilled widely circulated ideas about the connections
between poetic rhythm and national identities into influential theories of poetic
evolution. In "Whitman Made Modern," I trace the uneven process whereby Walt Whitman was
constructed as the father of American free verse. My third chapter, "New Poetry, New
Americans," examines the role that anthologists such as Harriet Monroe and Amy Lowell
played in creating the genre of the New Poetry, which has come to be identified with free
verse. In "Reading Poetry," I argue that Harriet Monroe's critical project in founding
Poetry magazine was to consolidate poetry as a genre and to discipline readers out of the
promiscuous habits of consumption that prevailed in the early decades of the twentieth
century. Ultimately, Shaping Free Verse provides the first history of the genre to take
into account the role that academic and critical discourse played in creating free verse.
It rethinks the transition between nineteenth-century American poetic cultures and modern
poetic thought, and it demonstrates that the term "poetry" names, not a coherent genre, but
rather any number of fantasies about social relations.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2014.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Virginia Jackson.
Committee: Lee Edelman, Meredith Martin, and Katie Peterson.
Keyword: American literature.read less