New models of poetry community – Prof Peter Middleton
October 23, 2013
by Laurence Georgin
Poets have always tended to form communities, and since the early twentieth-century this has become the norm. The absence of market value for this art-form means that poets can often only survive through the mutual support of each other as readers, editors and publishers. Between the mid-1940s and the 1970s, two largely independent groups of mostly gay male poets in New York and San Francisco began to develop a poetics based around their experience of community. Their subject matter and their poetic forms were shaped by intense self-questioning about what it meant to be part of a community based around experiences of dissident sexual identity.
The two poetry communities came up with quite different poetic strategies. The West Coast group, nicknamed the San Francisco Renaissance, were relatively open about their sexuality, yet as poets they emulated a secret society based on occult symbols, mystical concepts, and allusions to Arthurian comradeship. The East coast group, nicknamed the New York School, were publically discreet about their homosexuality, while exploring openly in their poems the vicissitudes of the love and friendship that held them together.
Out of these different group dynamics came two different theories of poetry, both of which have proved influential. These poets opened up new possibilities for modern poetry by showing how the relation between poet, poem, and readers could be playfully yet subtly reimagined. The poem could rethink the non-familial connections, memories, affects, and identity-construction that dynamically sustain a coterie of friends. Although the achievements of each individual poetic community and its leading members have been extensively studied, the significance of the contrast between the strategies of the two groups has not been much explored, nor has their legacy for later poetry movements and theories.
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Name: Prof Peter Middleton