John Timberman Newcomb, author of the recent University of Illinois Press book How Did Poetry Survive? The Making of Modern American Verse, is featured in today’s edition of Inside Higher Ed.
Q: You mention “poetry’s current disciplinary crisis in the American academy.” What is the nature of this crisis?
A: Since the advent of more historically-based approaches in the literary academy in the early 1990s, poetry has declined noticeably in its status among scholars of American literature relative to prose fiction and other forms of prose. In fact, one major book of scholarly essays on New Historicism and American literature contains no work dealing with poetry at all, as if “American literature” was to be understood entirely as American fiction. There’s a perception around that poetry and history don’t mix, or that poems don’t speak to historical contexts as vividly as prose works do. I don’t believe this is true, and I hope my book shows that many poems of the 1910s and 1920s spoke powerfully to the most pressing concerns of modern American life at that moment.