Shakespeare and Experimental American Poetry

Author:Alan Golding Time:2020-01-13 Click:

Abstract: Why the particular emphasis proposed in my title on Shakespeare’s importance for experimental or avant-garde American poetry? We can take Shakespeare’s significance for American poetry generally, as for most writers in the English language, as a given. One can certainly trace Shakespeare’s presence in a wide range of more mainstream twentieth-century poetry, from John Berryman to Anthony Hecht to Sylvia Plath, and anthologies of poetic responses to Shakespeare abound. But the use of the ultimate canonical Anglophone writer by experimental poets dedicated to changing the context of writing and reception in their own time raises some interesting questions not just about Shakespeare’s universal accessibility, availability, and usefulness but about later experimental poets’ senses of rupture and continuity. I’m interested in Shakespeare less as a site of continuity and tradition and more one of productive conflict and difference, in what Shakespeare has meant for experimental American poets not just as writer but as symbolic figure, as one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “representative men.” My goal, then, is not merely to point to the multiple American poetic uses of Shakespeare, but more specifically to suggest how some American poets (from Emerson and Williams to such contemporaries as Susan Howe, Harryette Mullen, Jen Bervin, and K. Silem Mohammad) have used or identified with Shakespeare to buttress what is often a particularly American version of avant-garde poetics.

Keywords: Shakespeare, experimental contemporary American poetry, William Carlos Williams, Susan Howe, Harryette Mullen


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