Keynote Talk

What’s so American about “The New American Poetry”?

Keynote talk by Daniel Kane, professor of American Literature, Uppsala University

Donald Allen’s anthology The New American Poetry (1960) proved hugely influential to avant-garde-affiliated writers from its initial publication through today. But why, one wonders, did Allen emphasize the Americanness of his project? After all, The New American Poetry placed writers such as Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Olson, Amiri Baraka, and Frank O’Hara in the context of distinct regional spheres – labeling the poets as belonging to the “San Francisco Renaissance,” as “New York Poets,” as “Black Mountain” poets, and so on. Ensuring readers would understand the work within all the more as distinctly “American,” the cover of the book itself was modeled after the American national flag. As scholars including Michael Davidson and Alan Golding have shown, Allen’s anthology and avant-garde American poetry after World War 2 more broadly speaking often uncritically channelled the ideologies of American exceptionalism, machismo, and Manifest Destiny to lend credence to itself. And yet, as I will discuss today, the work affiliated with The New American Poetry – and much of the writing that followed in its wake – was complexly transnational, proposing a positive vision of an inter-cultural form of globalism before this term’s corruption and misuse in political and economic contexts.