American Poetry, Prayer, and the News

Jahan Ramazani

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

 American Poetry, Prayer, and the News

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


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Twentieth-century American poetry metabolizes a variety of discursive genres, including fiction, song, theory, advertising, letters, and the law. To adapt Mikhail Bakhtin's terms, it dialogizes “literary and extraliterary languages,” “intensifying” and “hybridizing” them, making them collide and rub up against one another. But Bakhtin famously theorized poetry as monologic and exclusionary, “suspended from any mutual interaction with alien discourse, any allusion to alien discourse,” “destroying all traces of social heteroglossia and diversity of language”: “The language of the poetic genre is a unitary and singular Ptolemaic world outside of which nothing else exists and nothing else is needed.” Close analysis of twentieth-century American poems in relation to their generic others reveals a vastly more dialogic conception of poetry. This article focuses on poetry's ambivalent interactions with two of its generic others: the news and prayer as representing two widely divergent positions on a broad discursive spectrum. How do modern and contemporary American poems that engage with the news respond to journalism's mimeticism, presentism, and transparency? How do poems that adapt prayer respond to its ahistoricity, ritualism, and recursiveness? Do modern and contemporary American poetry more nearly resemble one or the other of its discursive cousins? How does American poetry overlap with, and distinguish itself from, these intergenres?

Keywords: modern poetry; Mikhail Bakhtin; American poems; journalism; mimeticism; presentism; transparency; ahistoricity; ritualism; recursiveness

Article.  12682 words. 

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

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