The future of poetry, circa 1926

Heather Christle, a delightful poet and and former creative writing fellow at Emory, has shared an article from the New York Times of April 19, 1926 concerning whether poetry will “survive modern civilization.” You will probably find many of the assumptions about readers very familiar, from the quasi-populist claim that “only one in ten” appreciate subtlety and irony, to the prediction that poets will emulate the banal and/or scientific styles of everyday speech in poems about, say, the radio or “gland rejuvenation.”

Notably, the only participant in the debate who has “survived” for contemporary audiences is William Carlos Williams. For Williams, in order for American poetry to have a future, it must be as distinctive as “skyscrapers, machinery and jazz.” It must be rooted in its time and locale, not aspire to universality. As you begin reading Williams for Monday’s class, think about how those early poems relate to the theory of poetic value he expresses in this conversation, and how they might compare to the other instantiations of literary modernism we have looked at (i.e., Yeats, Marinetti, Loy and Eliot).

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