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This review is taken from PN Review 226, Volume 42 Number 2, November - December 2015.

Cover of American Poetry after Modernism: The Power of the Word
Gareth ReevesPoetry Makes Something Happen ALBERT GELPI, American Poetry after Modernism: The Power of the Word (Cambridge University Press) £65 / $110

The Tenth Muse: The Psyche of the American Poet (1975), A Coherent Splendor: The American Poetic Renaissance, 1910-1950 (1987), and now this third volume of Albert Gelpi’s magisterial history of American poetry. Much more than a conventional survey, the complete three-volume study constitutes a series of interlinked, substantial and detailed examinations of those poets who best focus and forward Gelpi’s argument about language and form in the progress of American poetry. In American Poetry after Modernism he contends that ‘Postmodernist’ is ‘too categorical and simplified a label’ for poetry written after World War II, and that, just as there was a dialogue between Modernism and Romanticism, so there was, and continues to be, between two ‘imaginative poles’, Postmodernism and Neoromanticism. When ‘Modernism is severed from its residual Romantic inclinations’, the result is ‘the poetics of indeterminacy’, as exemplified most obviously by Language poetry. But those Romantic inclinations ‘persist [...] alongside, and often in active contention with, Postmodernist inclinations’. Gelpi strongly favours the Neoromantic strain in American poetry, but his schema necessitates a full, and enlightening, account of the poetics of indeterminacy and some of its practitioners.

His critical approach, which is to pay careful attention to the poetics and aesthetics of the poets as a way into their poetry, reflects his contention that historically poetics has been a primary and generative force for American poetry. American individualism, the need to declare independence, has potent literary implications: unlike their British counterparts, American poets have had to justify their poetry, for there has been no intrinsically ...

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