Out with the Crowd

John Timberman Newcomb

in The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195398779
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Out with the Crowd

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)


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This article focuses on the interactions of modern American poetry with mass culture. Mass culture is considered in two senses: first as collective spectacle or performance experienced in spaces of commodified amusement, then as semiotic and textual phenomena, advertisements above all, that interpellate modern subjects for the ideological project of corporate capitalism. It surveys work by a variety of poets in order to show that this engagement with mass culture was no tangent limited to the work of a few oddballs or specialists, but was a pervasive dimension of American poetry during these decades. The entire careers of several significant poets—not only Williams and Fearing but Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Langston Hughes, and Muriel Rukeyser—can be framed as attempts to articulate a productive relationship with the forms and meanings of modern mass culture. The same could be said for significant parts of other careers, including those of Eliot, Pound, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Archibald MacLeish, whose turns toward and away from radio at particular historical and personal junctures reveal the inescapable role mass culture played in their poetics. Still others, particularly Lindsay, Sandburg, Millay, and Robert Frost, created iconic public personae that challenged the boundaries between literary art and mass culture.

Keywords: collective spectacle; performance; semiotic phenomena; textual phenomena; corporate capitalism; American poetry

Article.  9448 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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