Midcentury American Poetry and the Identity of Place
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This dissertation argues that the midcentury period from 1945-1967 offers a distinct historical framework in American poetry that bears further study. This position counters most other literary history of this period wherein midcentury poets are divided into schools or coteries based on literary friendships and movements: the San Francisco Beats, the New York School, the Black Mountain poets, the Confessionals, the Black Arts poets, the Deep Image poets, and the New Critics, to invoke only the most prominent designations. Critics also typically share a reluctance to cross gender or racial lines in their conceptualizations of the period. Of the few books that survey this period as a whole, most propose the defining features of midcentury poetry as formal innovation (or lack thereof) and a renunciation of the past. By contrast, I argue that such divisions and limiting categories do not attend to some of the most important features of midcentury poetry. I suggest that midcentury poetry most often demonstrates a renewed interest in locating a particular identity in a specific place. To illustrate this point, I explore depictions of identity and place in the works of three poets who are rarely studied together, Gwendolyn Brooks, Theodore Roethke, and Elizabeth Bishop. Each chapter examines the changes in poets' careers by focusing on how the relationship between place and identity differs in their early and late work. I contend that the few generalizations we have about the trajectory of this period (that poets moved from using more traditional forms to more open forms, for example) are not entirely accurate and, even more, that the accounts that we have of the poets' individual careers could be enhanced by a comparison between their early and late depictions of identity and place. I argue that the concerted exploration of the intersection of place and identity calls for a reconsideration of midcentury poetry: not just the categories we have but the poets and poems we read.