A Full Nelson?
Getting a Grip on Cultural Criticism of Modern American Poetry
“Occasionally,” wrote Dana Gioia for the Atlantic Monthly in April of 1991, “a writer links up rewardingly to a social or political movement . . . But it is a difficult task to marry the Muse happily to politics” (10). Gioia, who has since been appointed by President George W. Bush to head the National Endowment for the Arts, was no doubt formulating the nature of his protest two years earlier, just as the University of Wisconsin Press was publishing Cary Nelson's own polemic, Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory 1910-1945 . If Gioia has at all encountered Nelson's now-foundational study of the period's socially-engaged verse is difficult to tell for sure, but his worrying about an art that is “divorced from pleasure and bound to ideology” suggests that he hasn't (228). Seeking a poetry that “refers to life only through the intricately self-referential prism of language,” Gioia's arguments aren't necessarily surprising so much as they simply present the most recent installment of a New Critical theory that, for over fifty years, claimed aesthetic autonomy for poetry by disconnecting it from competing cultural or historical forces—a half century of scholarship repressing the nation's tradition of politically- or socially-engaged poetry, and a half century for which Nelson's study adamantly seeks redress.
If Gioia has gone on since the publication of “Can Poetry Matter?” to ally his poetics with the Bush Administration, Nelson's work has proceeded to open the doors of poetry criticism in the university system to a wide range of cultural studies approaches dedicated to recovering and reevaluating repressed or forgotten, largely leftist or politically progressive poetry from the first half of the century. And Nelson's project has become something of a collective one over the past 15 or so years—spilling beyond the time period he delineated, taking place in classroom anthologies as well as in scholarly books and journals, and assuming a generally familial (if somewhat masculine) character that John Timberman Newcomb's recent book Would Poetry Disappear? American Verse and the Crisis of Modernity addresses in the following, slightly hyperbolic manner: “Anyone who works on modern American poetry today owes a great debt to Cary Nelson; mine is greater than most, and not only because it includes so many delicious turkey dinners” (ix). Familial indeed: of the scholars surveyed in this essay, some (Newcomb, William J. Maxwell) are on the University of Illinois faculty with Nelson, some (Mark Van Wienen, Michael Thurston) were Nelson's students, and others (Nancy Berke, Paula Bernat Bennett, Joseph Harrington) credit Nelson with help or inspiration in their books' introductions and acknowledgments. Nelson, Newcomb, Maxwell, Van Wienen and Bennett all live or teach in Illinois, curiously within driving distance of a number of other culturalist critics of modern and contemporary American poetry as well (Ed Brunner in southern Indiana, Harrington in Kansas, Robert von Hallberg in Chicago, Adalaide Morris in Iowa, and Maria Damon in Minnesota, to name a few), making the prospect of a Midwestern Thanksgiving dinner at the Nelson residence a very distinct possibility.
Nelson's Repression and Recovery didn't open the field of poetry criticism to cultural studies all by itself, of course. A generation of feminist and African-Americanist scholarship provided important models of academic community formation, canon challenge, and historical salvage work, for example, and other scholars contemporaneous with Repression and Recovery —among whom Walter Kalaidjian, Jerome McGann, von Hallberg, Alan Golding and Susan Schweik have work of particular significance—were suggesting ways of rereading American poetry via its “social text” or physical materiality in non New Critical fashions that augment Nelson's approach in important ways. Nevertheless, Nelson's was the first book of such systematic disciplinary scope and polemic to shake the foundations of New Critical hegemony from within the academy: the first to take as its central argument the method of literary criticism among poetry scholars; the first to distinguish between poetry's cultural and canonical relevance and thus differentiate between work in literary history and canon-formation; and the first to take on the New Critical argument that “all political poetry sounds the same” by proving, with an inexhaustible litany of examples showcasing the “range of voices, styles, and discourses at work in the period” (19), that political poetry—or poetry with a “social function”—does not, by any stretch of the imagination, all sound the same. “If,” he writes, “we wish to know what poetry might have meant to its varied audiences in the past and to remain open to its different cultural functions in the present, we need to know the history of the genre in our own culture” (43).
Claiming that “we no longer know the history of the poetry of the first half of this century; most of us, moreover, do not know that the knowledge is gone,” Repression and Recovery ties together a wide array of leftist, African-American, women, and other “popular front” writers who were socially engaged with their time when other, so-called High Modernist writers in the New Critical canon (or so goes the conventional line) tried not to be (4). Eschewing the New Critical focus on individual talents and literary masterpieces with universal and timeless value, Nelson's study is absorbed, rather, with identifying and discussing not only the writing of poetry that has “social purposes” (25) and does “useful cultural work” (19) but also its production, reception and social “use” within institutional, material and interpretive frameworks. Toward these ends, he includes nearly 70 pages of illustrations salvaging the physical contexts of modern poetry—magazines and newspapers, book covers, postcards, posters, drawings and illuminations that key us in to the discursive terrain poetry occupied in its time and help demonstrate how “experimental, rhetorically complex, and explicitly modernist” these dismissed poems can be (234). “This diverse and highly interactive period of political poetry,” he claims, “is one of the real treasures of our literary heritage. Even at the time the sheer variety of socially engaged poetry astounded writers on the left” (102). Nevertheless, he argues, “The full range of modern poetries is so great that it cannot be persuasively narrativized in any unitary way. . .To be in thrall to a single historical narrative, moreover, is to miss the benefits that come from juxtaposing multiple, competing narratives” (7).
If Nelson took such pains in Repression and Recovery to exhibit the diversity of modern American political poetry, its producers and audiences, then he cannily swings the opposite direction in his follow-up book, Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left (2001) where he acknowledges that if a lot of political poetry does sound the same, then maybe we need to learn to read that similarity as a deliberate and at the very least provocative characteristic—if not a distinct virtue. Reprising the term “choral performance” from Repression and Recovery, where Nelson used it to describe the “ritually repeatable” nature of some political poetry, the final half of Revolutionary Memory thus “focuses on community and continuity in the collective enterprise of progressive poetry” and “suggest[s] that in some of the key constitutive moments of political poetry a collective literature is a destination and an overriding value; it triumphs over the individual voice” cherished by New Critical canonizers (3). The trajectory from Repression and Recovery is clear: a focus on reception as much as production, a desire to read poetry within its immediate social and material contexts and for its distinctly cultural use, and a desire to turn New Critical claims to a poem's salient weakness—its “thematic similarity” or “lack of defining difference,” for example—into claims for its strength (6). In two chapters focusing on revolutionary poetry of the 1930s, Nelson creates several “collective meta-poems” (7) that display the force and extent of group “performances” created as individual writers seconded, echoed, and rearticulated each other's concerns within larger movements for social change. In the first instance, Nelson shows how these choral characteristics helped to create and sustain a usable revolutionary political history within the United States and how such a collective voice—especially in the mass media of the time which High Modernists were busy fleeing from or castigating—helped to affirm and promote social change by becoming “a form of social conversation and a way of participating in collaborative political action” (157). In the second instance, Nelson shifts his focus to the role that such a choral poetics played during the Spanish Civil War in which “the highest calling for a single voice was to choose to echo the slogan signifying solidarity with the defenders of Madrid, to step forward and speak the words that kept the signifying chain alive, that carried it forward in time and sustained its spread across the globe” (218). In both chapters, Nelson relies on his extensive archive of postcards, magazines, newspapers and other poetic ephemera to demonstrate how poetry circulated, how it was read, how it was used in the production and maintenance of revolutionary spirit and social change—powerful social and cultural roles for poetry that New Critical insistence on single voices and individual talents has helped to ignore, effectively limiting and impoverishing the very object of its study in the process.
Ranging broadly over three or four decades of American history, suggesting potential avenues for future or more extensive inquiry, and bringing to the public eye materials that have barely seen the light of day for half a century, Nelson's efforts have worked to open the field for new and exciting scholarly research. If, at times, his willingness to substitute breadth for depth, suggestion for analysis, or illustration for commentary makes his work seem more a catalog or survey than sustained scholarly inquiry, that's a retrospective impression that tends to lose sight of the New Critical hegemony and disciplinary forces Nelson's argument has regularly had to encounter and emphatically push against. When “Can Poetry Matter?” first appeared, for example, the climate was (and still is to a lesser extent) such that Gioia was in fact taken seriously as the “populist” he claimed to be because he expressed a desire to broaden the “general readership” of poetry to what it supposedly was in the mid-century heyday of “practical critics” and newspaper criticism (2). “No one knows the size of this community” for sure, Gioia writes, but this “larger audience,” the nation's “cultural intelligentsia,” was the key to poetry's social vitality and represented at a “conservative estimate,” a whole “ 2 percent of the U.S. population ” (my italics, 16). Nelson's work—and the work of subsequent scholars who have further revealed and traced what Mark Van Wienen calls the astounding “embeddedness of poetry within American culture” (15)—have since made Gioia's “populist” two percent look more like a Bush Administration tax break as they have not only argued for, but effectively established, poetry's deep and daily involvement in American lives during the first half of the twentieth century.
Van Wienen's Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War charts and maps the broad discursive terrain that poetry occupied in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, U.S. entry into World War I—before the emergence of “Modernism” on the U.S. poetry scene, and before it was argued that poetry belonged to some people and not to others. The genre of poetry, Van Wienen argues, “was in fact widely construed as a medium for representing and debating the war, its impact, and responses to it” (7), and poetry's presence in newspapers, classrooms, protests, folders, stickers, cards, books, magazines, broadsides and songs—as what Van Wienen calls “propaganda on demand” (162)—reveals a “general readership” that makes Gioia's two percent “cultural intelligentsia” laughably skim. Nor, Van Wienen argues, bringing a Gramscian cultural studies method explicitly to bear for perhaps the first time in a full-length book study of modern American poetry, was this “propaganda on demand” solely a function of leftist, oppositional, or dissenting groups in the United States. His chapters on the role of poetry in the Women's Peace Party, the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) protests and trials, and NAACP newspapers are thorough and fascinating Nelsonian commitments to American dissent and social action, but those chapters are counterpointed by equally revealing work on the use of poetry by the U.S. Food Administration and other groups invested in pro-governmental and pro-war policies. What results is not only the construction of an entire, not just leftist, U.S. populated by “amateur poets—people who may have read, written, and published poetry regularly but who did not or could not take poetry to be their occupation”— but a nation which “use[d] poetry's cultural authority in specific, often explicitly political ways” that were topical, ephemeral, geared toward social use, collective authorship and audience response and which combined aspects of both genteel and modern forms “with apparent disregard for the craft of poetry” (2). What New Criticism has pigeonholed as the genre of “political poetry,” Van Wienen argues, “was not so much a specialized subgenre or an extraordinary application of poetry practice as a wide range of poetic strategies that were widely available in American culture of the 1910s” (my italics, 17), not just the province of an educated or cultural elite.
If Partisans and Poets is recovering an ordinary reader and writer for poetry studies as well as presenting the genre itself as a legitimate lens through which to understand American history and culture, Nelson's colleague William J. Maxwell uses poetry to reconstruct what he calls the “two-way channels between radical Harlem and Soviet Moscow” that New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars claims sustained U.S. Communism and black social thought during the Harlem Renaissance (10). Contrary to the literary and historical characterization of Communism—as a movement that sought to strip black communities and their constituents of political agency by absorbing them into a white class-based agenda that paid little attention to the needs of the black proletariat and the racially inflected character of class in the U.S.—Maxwell claims that black writers' discussions about race helped, in fact, to develop Comintern strategies for working in the U.S. and that communist class-based politics and theory similarly nourished and nuanced the nature of black social thought in turn. Among the “least understood features of modern black writing” (2), this mutual if not symbiotic exchange marks “modern black literature's debts to Communism and Communism's debt to modern black literature” (1) in unanticipated ways and should convince us, Maxwell argues, that “Black bolshevism is best seen as a fluctuating but consistently fertile position” (59) rather than a theoretical and practical dead end.
While the latter half of New Negro, Old Left explores this dynamic via the period's fiction, the Jamaican-born poet Claude McKay is central to the first part of Maxwell's book—in part because McKay's “pilgrimage” to the Soviet Union resulted in the “still-obscure treatise” The Negroes in America (1923) which McKay intended as a primer on race for Russian communist leaders and in which, anticipating a number of cultural studies insights, he insisted on the conjunction(s) of race, class, and gender in U.S. social life. “Without surrendering the conviction that class is the elementary contradiction in capitalist society,” Maxwell explains, “this author thus invokes a Marxism in which sex and economics are contemplated in unison and the Negro Question and the Woman Question are inextricable first subjects, not incongruous exceptions to the rules of class struggle” (88). Then, as if examining the effect of this document in miniature, Maxwell explores the give-and-take between McKay and American Jewish communist and poet Mike Gold during their time as editors of The Liberator and beyond, especially as reflected in “Gold's hopes for a syncretic proletarian-New negro aesthetic” (113). With these chapters—and two others, one focusing on the intersection of poetry, race and class in Harlem's mass culture, and the other exploring black/Communist literary interventions in the Scottsboro trials—Maxwell, like Van Wienen, convincingly demonstrates how central the genre of poetry was to the development of twentieth century social thought and how a fuller understanding of this poetry, and other writing done by poets, is crucial to understanding larger cultural formations in U.S. history.
This is the sort of project that Nancy Berke would like to pull off particularly in regards to gender in Women Poets on the Left: Lola Ridge, Genevieve Taggard, Margaret Walker —a book that attempts to fill the need for a concerted study on the intersection(s) of gender with leftist politics of varying hues but which, ultimately, dissolves into a largely thematic study of how three individual poets, linked for the most part unproblematically by their gender and (somewhat) by their politics, artfully address political concerns in their poems without being “bound to ideology,” as Gioia would put it, and thus having their work dissolve into propaganda. Before Repression and Recovery , and given more space to develop and complicate its claims, this type of book could have been legitimately groundbreaking in its attempt to shift critical attention away from the New Critical agenda and toward what Kalaidjian has called the “social text” of American poetry . Next to Van Wienen and Maxwell and more than a decade after Repression and Recovery , however, Berke's comparatively short (165 page) and sometimes awkwardly-written study of three authors largely excerpted from their discursive contexts lacks the revisionary scope and constant culturalist impulse to be the groundbreaking study in leftist gender politics that modern American poetry needs (although Van Wienen's attention to the Women's Peace Movement and the U.S. Food Administration's kitchen politics is a good start, as is Schweik's 1991 study A Gulf So Deeply Cut: American Women Poets and the Second World War ). Claiming that Ridge, Taggard and Walker are “representative” (7) of women's poetry without offering a broad overview of how their work epitomizes that of their contemporaries, Women Poets on the Left more often than not tends to chronicle what the poets have to “say” in their poems—what they have “written about” (16), what they “record” (25) and “how they bore witness through powerful poems” (17)—rather than placing and reading these poems in the cultural matrix of their production, distribution and consumption. Despite arguing that these women “establish a poetry of praxis,” the specific nature of that praxis is left largely unaddressed and seems to have to do more with how Ridge, Taggard and Walker “teach and remind us. . .what radical women were thinking about” (7) rather than how they intervened in, and were spoken by, their own cultural moments. This isn't always the case, of course, but more often than not Berke's study wants to be a culturalist one while resorting to thematic close readings to get at the work of individual authors—all of which, in the end, seems to owe as much or more to a feminist-inflected New Criticism than it does to cultural studies.
The book that Berke wanted to write is probably something along the lines of Paula Bernat Bennett's Poets in the Public Sphere: The Emancipatory Project of American Women's Poetry, 1800-1900 . While Bennett's focus on the nineteenth century—with its hodge-podge of proto-modern women's poetries seeking inclusion in the public sphere and exploring a range of new and modern female subject positions—would appear to place her outside of a modern, Nelsonian orbit, her method, her recovery work, her insistence on the social relevance of poetry, and her focus on how “poems relate to. . .concrete and historically specific audiences” (4) make her discussion extremely relevant here, especially in comparison to Berke. Countering two New Critical assumptions—that no poetry of any value was written by women except for Emily Dickinson in the last half of the nineteenth century, and that most every self-respecting genteel poem (save an early century stab at an abolitionist protest or two) stayed as far away as possible from social and political issues of the day— Poets in the Public Sphere recuperates the vibrant, dynamic newspaper poetry written by women, “largely complaint poems, whose social, cultural, and political affiliations give them historical value outside the aesthetic” (4). Here, it turns out, “amateur” women writers created a space in the Habermasian public sphere for women's concerns via their poetry—using it to challenge or reject the role of “domestic angel” expected of them by asserting their poetic intelligence and equality with men, by crafting arguments exposing problems with that domestic angel ideal, by calling for social reforms, and by exploring alternative or modern subjectivities laced with gothic or erotic content. Writing quickly, without regard to posterity, and outside the paradigm established by their male Fireside counterparts, their “ongoing practice of gender debate” intersected with race debates as well, and Bennett explores how a range of ethnic writers—black, Jewish, Irish, American Indian—used their poetry to position themselves “within and without their own communities” in such a way that it “allowed them to function as representative when manifestly they were not—indeed, when it was their exceptionality that enabled them not just to write but to be heard” (86). While Poets in the Public Sphere reserves special acclaim for certain individuals, especially Sarah Piatt, Bennett not only stays close to those writers' audiences and the complicated natures of their discursive communities, but part of her overarching argument—that many of these poets can be read to prefigure “the irony-based modernism to come” (156)—consistently makes claims for their significance in literary, and not just cultural or social, histories of the time as well.
In calling attention to the “irony-based modernism” of these poems, Bennett's study does at times employ a New Critical terminology, in part to forego the tone of a polemic and connect this work to still-prevailing New Critical narratives of American poetry. This attempt to work within, and thus revise, the dominant criteria of poetic accomplishment has been part of the cultural studies project since the beginning when Repression and Recovery not only lobbied for the cultural importance of political poems but emphasized their rhetorical and formal complexities as well—observations he knew would impress New Critical canonizers more readily than a strict cultural studies rubric would. No book-length, culturalist study attempts this bridge as thoroughly, however, as Michael Thurston's Making Something Happen: American Political Poetry Between the Wars which positions itself from the start in ongoing discussions of poetic form that have preoccupied New Critical scholars (Gioia included) from the start. Building on the social and ideological character of poetic form that Antony Easthope formulates in Poetry as Discourse , Thurston argues that four of the poets most frequently cited by cultural studies poetry critics—Edwin Rolfe, Langston Hughes, Ezra Pound, and Muriel Rukeyser—were intensely aware of how engaging the tradition of poetic form (metrical, generic, or material) would contribute to and even facilitate the nature of their political protest. In this sense, then, even though he maintains the culturalist's attention to reception, discursive formations, material contexts, and socio-political efficacy, Thurston turns away from Van Wienen's “amateur poet” writing “with apparent disregard for the craft of poetry” and toward the individual artist self-consciously working within a poetic tradition and knowing that tradition well enough to rearticulate it to his or her political ends: by harnessing “the powerful political potential of traditional verse forms,” as is case with Rolfe and Hughes, or by deploying “[t]he experimental poetics of literary modernism,” as with Pound and Rukeyser (40). By showing (contra Auden) how poetic forms actually do “do” things—they purchase cultural authority, they embody or provide models for political praxis, they offer interpretive frameworks for readers, etc.—Thurston pays equal attention to both parts of the “political poet” label and demonstrates how a combination of politics and poetics can result in a very rewarding “political but nonpolemical art” (59). A project like this, so attentive to New Critical fears that “most of the craft of traditional English versification [has] been forgotten” (Gioia 34), speaks in a conciliatory way to both sides of the New Critical-Culturalist divide, by assuring the former that poetic tradition and the markers of poetic accomplishment are not only relevant but newly informative, and by promising that the latter's polemic is duly registered, absorbed, and is, in fact, now part of the necessary criteria for any credible and informed reading of American literary history.
If Thurston's compromise sounds suspiciously easy, or like an attempt to mainstream cultural studies, that may indeed be the case. While Making Something Happen makes a compelling argument for including accomplished political poets in the canon of American literature—and classroom anthologies like Nelson's Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry (2000) and Paul Lauter's The Heath Anthology of American Literature (1998) remind us that we can't underestimate the importance of that effort—it's nonetheless provocatively silent on how to read, write about, and teach what Van Wienen has called the range of “alternative poetries,” their audiences, and the “embeddedness” of poetry in the modern era. It's become clear that we can't impose, or “be in thrall to,” a unified narrative claiming to resolve all of these American traditions. Indeed, as the work by Newcomb and Bennett on proto-modern American verse suggests, we should even be wary of too quickly cordoning off one “modernism” as the definitive one. Moreover, as Nelson and others have been observing, traditional category distinctions between, for example, “modern” and “genteel” or “experimental” and “popular” break down under the actuality of the modern poetry scene. “Indeed,” writes Nelson in Repression and Recovery,
one of the striking things about the gradual emergence of modernist forms in American protest poetry. . .is the lack of a sense of a radical break with the past. The thematic continuities in this hundred-year-old American tradition are so strong that a sense of opening out and diversification, of thematic conservation and formal variation, overrides the adversarial model of modernism wholly rejecting the more formal traditions in American poetry. . .[T]he rhetoric of the genteel tradition and the rhetoric of modernism were often counterpointed in the work of individual poets. (25)
What Nelson calls an “uneasy coexistence” between traditions, then, is more than a series of aesthetic philosophies running parallel to one another in the first half of the century and suggests that one of the richer culturalist projects over the next decade may be to further scrutinize and theorize the various “continuities” and “counterpoints” that Nelson says characterize modern American poetry.
While there is much to comment on in Joseph Harrington's Poetry and the Public: The Social Form of Modern U.S. Poetics , I'd like to excerpt and highlight, in light of the preceding paragraph, his notion that the range of poetries in modern American life resulted in “hybrids or ‘crossings'” both in “the cultural understandings of poetry and in the textual forms that had existed previously” (14). That is, he explains, audiences before and in the modern period didn't necessarily conceive of the social category “Poetry” as “a genre with a consensus description, but a crossing point, an indeterminate and contested space in which new ways of writing emerged. . .Poetry was not a static art form; nor was it viewed by all or most readers and writers as either an idealized repository of tradition or pure autotelic form” (3). Poetry and the Public can make these claims about “the social form of the genre of poetry”—by which Harrington means the entire matrix of cultural, institutional, interpretive and material relationships affecting a poem's production, distribution and consumption—after a fascinating look in Chapter One (“Poetry and the Reading Public: Poetic Debates in the Popular Press, 1910-1940”) at the Gramscian “war of position” over the cultural meaning of “poetry” in the U.S. once modernism's claims to cultural authority hit the scene, a war that took place in popular magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, on the movie screen (in Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town ), over the radio, and in other aspects of daily life. The subsequent chapters on Allen Tate, Wallace Stevens and Arturo Giovanetti flush out various ways that people were (re)conceiving poetry's role in the U.S. and effectively lead up to the book's real find, Chapter Five's “Poetry as Crossing: The Newspaper Verse of Anise (Anna Louise Strong).” Here, Harrington argues that Strong's tonally and typographically hybrid poetry column in the Seattle Union Record not only “combined several traditions in U.S. letters—social protest, newspaper verse, satire, and avant-garde technique” but also mixed “aspects of poetry and features journalism” (128) in creating “an oppositional, ‘proletarian' counterpublic sphere” (129). The “crossing of modes” in these poems—which included modernist interest in experimental form, transition, collage, diction, and syntax—not just facilitated, but actually enabled “Anise” a public voice and appeal that the real-life Strong never could have had (139).
“This strange combination” of Strong's “antimodernist modernism,” Harrington argues, “was not as unusual in the 1910s and 1920s as it would seem for later generations” (128) and suggests that the notion of cultural, poetic, and even generic “crossings” might provide current scholars with an effective and flexible way to conceptualize modern—and even contemporary— American poetry without, on the one hand, having to force a unified narrative on either period, and without having to juggle all of the aggressive loose ends that appear on the other hand when history's “alternative poetries ” unravel and demand their separate but equal accounting. After more than a half century of repression and fifteen years of recovery, American poetry studies—and our students—are ready for a way to reconceptualize the high/low, elite/popular splits that have characterized New Critical and, to a lesser extent, culturalist readings of modern U.S. poetry. Not only does this present us with the opportunities to reread the canon in new ways and consider a lot of poetry for the first time in decades, but it may also provide a model that can reposition poetry and poetry studies as central to larger departmental, university, and social and political ways of thinking about the nature of American identity as well.
Gioia, Dana. Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture . Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1992.
Nelson, Cary. Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory 1910-1945 . Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.
Nelson, Cary. Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left . New York: Routledge, 2001.
Van Wienen, Mark W. Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Maxwell, William J. New Negro, Old Left: African-American Writing and Communism Between the Wars . New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Berke, Nancy. Women Poets on the Left: Lola Ridge, Genevieve Taggard, Margaret Walker. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.
Bennett, Paula Bernat. Poets in the Public Sphere: The Emancipatory Project of American Women's Poetry, 1800-1900 . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.
Thurston, Michael. Making Something Happen: American Political Poetry Between the World Wars. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
Harrington, Joseph. Poetry and the Public: The Social Form of Modern U.S. Poetics. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.