For those looking for a bit of historical and critical background to their poetry, may we suggest two works that take very distinctive approaches to the history of twentieth-century poetry and suggest new ways of reading key poets from the period.
In Rhythm and Race in Modernist Poetry and Science, Michael Golston explores the forgotten, fascinating, and sometimes bizarre (see jacket image to the right) studies in rhythm that were conducted in the first part of the twentieth century. Golston explains how poets like Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, Mina Loy, and William Carlos Williams either absorbed or echoed the information in studies of “rhythmics,” using it to hone the innovative edge of Modernist practice and fundamentally alter the way poetry was written.
As Stephen Burt points out in his introduction to The Forms of Youth: Twentieth Century Poetry and Adolescence, many experts consider “teenager” to be the most important new word of the twentieth century. How then did adolescence affect and shape the poetry of the past century? From elite schools in Britain to the gangs of Chicago’s Southside, Burt demonstrates that poets such as William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Thom Gunn, George Oppen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Lowell, and Jorie Graham made ideas of and about adolescence inseparable from their aesthetic goals, for part or all of their careers.