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Songs of Ourselves - The Uses of Poetry in America
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Table of Contents

Introduction Part I. The Poet in American Culture *1. Seer and Sage *2. Amateur and Professional *3. Absence and Presence *4. Sophisticate and Innocent *5. Celebrity and Cipher *6. Alien and Intimate Part II. Poetry in Place and Practice *7. Listen, My Children: Modes of Poetry Reading in American Schools *8. I Am an American: Poetry and Civic Ideals *9. Grow Old Along with Me: Poetry and Emotions among Family and Friends *10. God's in His Heaven: Religious Uses of Verse *11. Lovely as a Tree: Reading and Seeing Out-of-Doors * Coda: "Favorite Poems" and Contemporary Readers * Notes * Index

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Here is a model of what scholarship can do: knowledge, imaginatively applied to matters of importance. Joan Rubin gives an understated but forceful history of poetry's readership, fads, attainments and allegiances in the United States. Implicitly, by sheer force of information, Rubin dispels blather-wiping away trite assumptions, displacing stereotypes, and correcting nostalgia for some vague good old days. Through the lens of a central human art, this book provides a new way of regarding Americans and our culture. -- Robert Pinsky This unusually wide-ranging, admirably researched, resourcefully argued study demonstrates far better than anyone has done before the crucial importance of poetry in the making of American culture--not only in the past but in our own time as well. This book should be of great interest not only to specialists in literature and cultural history but to any reader interested in the place of poetry in American life. -- Lawrence Buell, author of Emerson In its fresh takes on poetry from Longfellow and Markham to Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Pinsky, Songs of Ourselves is both an elegy to the emotional life of a bygone period and an affirmation that even after the rise of high modernism and New Criticism, traditional, regular, and at times sentimental poetry continues to be enjoyed to this day. -- Werner Sollors, is author of Neither Black nor White yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature Joan Shelley Rubin tells a new history of American poetry, broader than a chronicle of writers or literary movements. Here are the people who read poetry: in school, at home, in church, around the scout campfire. Exhaustively researched, dazzlingly written, Songs of Ourselves reveals how poems transcended and escaped the printed page to take their place in Americans' lives and experience--from immigrant classrooms a century ago to poetry slams today. -- Scott Casper, University of Nevada, Reno This is a book that needed to be written. Superb and original, it not only recovers a vast amount of American cultural history, it changes the way we understand the present. It is a book to celebrate- and reread. -- Dana Gioia, Poet and Former Chair, National Endowment for the Arts

About the Author

Joan Shelley Rubin is Professor of History at the University of Rochester.

Reviews

Americans-especially those who read poetry-like to ask whether poetry matters; Rubin's big cultural history demonstrates how, and how widely, it once did. From the 1880s through the 1950s, Americans of many tastes and stations considered poetry part of their daily lives; they read it to one another at home, memorized and recited it at schools, in citizenship ceremonies, in churches, in synagogues and in parades, and quoted it to reassure themselves, argue with one another or demonstrate their links to their past. Using a wide range of primary sources, Rubin (The Making of Middlebrow Culture) constructs a detailed and determinedly democratic study. Americans, she makes clear, saw poets as "celebrity and cipher," friend and wise elder, sophisticate and innocent, sometimes-as with Edna St. Vincent Millay-all these at once. Their many uses for verse contradicts simple oppositions of highbrow-lowbrow, canonical-obscure. Rubin might have spent less space on some conclusions few will find surprising (e.g., the continuing popularity of Longfellow), and she never quite says why (or whether) these uses of poetry have diminished. Nevertheless, her study should get attention, not just from historical circles but from people who want poems to matter now. B&w illus. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Here is a model of what scholarship can do: knowledge, imaginatively applied to matters of importance. Joan Rubin gives an understated but forceful history of poetry's readership, fads, attainments and allegiances in the United States. Implicitly, by sheer force of information, Rubin dispels blather-wiping away trite assumptions, displacing stereotypes, and correcting nostalgia for some vague good old days. Through the lens of a central human art, this book provides a new way of regarding Americans and our culture. -- Robert Pinsky
This unusually wide-ranging, admirably researched, resourcefully argued study demonstrates far better than anyone has done before the crucial importance of poetry in the making of American culture--not only in the past but in our own time as well. This book should be of great interest not only to specialists in literature and cultural history but to any reader interested in the place of poetry in American life. -- Lawrence Buell, author of Emerson
In its fresh takes on poetry from Longfellow and Markham to Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Pinsky, Songs of Ourselves is both an elegy to the emotional life of a bygone period and an affirmation that even after the rise of high modernism and New Criticism, traditional, regular, and at times sentimental poetry continues to be enjoyed to this day. -- Werner Sollors, is author of Neither Black nor White yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature
Joan Shelley Rubin tells a new history of American poetry, broader than a chronicle of writers or literary movements. Here are the people who read poetry: in school, at home, in church, around the scout campfire. Exhaustively researched, dazzlingly written, Songs of Ourselves reveals how poems transcended and escaped the printed page to take their place in Americans' lives and experience--from immigrant classrooms a century ago to poetry slams today. -- Scott Casper, University of Nevada, Reno
Americans-especially those who read poetry- like to ask whether poetry matters; Rubin's big cultural history demonstrates how, and how widely, it once did. * Publishers Weekly *
Ms. Rubin has done innovative research into the wide array of social functions that poetry served from 1880 until 1950. Her book delves into school recitation days and war memorial services; the poetry of the summer camp and the verse-speaking choir; anthologies designed for Americanization programs and as devotional aids...When subjected to the tensions of a powerful nation in a tumultuous era, the timeless appeals of poetry will naturally take distinctive and surprising forms. Ms. Rubin has chosen to survey some of these surprises over 70 years of explosive American history-from the lingering aftermath of the Civil War through the ravages of two world wars to the technological wizardry of the 20th century. She has chosen a field where the eternal and the temporal contend--just the sort of terrain where poetry has always been most at home. -- Brad Leithauser * Wall Street Journal *
This humane, at times exhaustingly detailed literary history dignifies, against the critics' aesthetic judgments, the comfort, pleasure and emotional richness readers found in popular poetry. And as a social historian, Rubin...succeeds in showing how this poetry was adopted by educators, churches, immigrant groups and other organizations to promote various social and cultural goals...She keeps admirable faith with one ordinary reader's desire not so much to "try to figure out what the poem means, as much as what the poem means to us in our lives now." -- Tom Sleigh * New York Times Book Review *
Taking a larger view of Songs of Ourselves...it's hard not to be deeply impressed, not only by its massive evidence that poetry played powerful roles in the lives of Americans, but also its boldly...corrective stance against the knee-jerk canon-making tendencies of Literary Studies. It is no longer possible to view modern American poetry as an enterprise only occupying some aesthetically purified, uncommodified, revolutionary space outside of mainstream culture. -- Steve Healey * Rain Taxi *
This is a book that needed to be written. Superb and original, it not only recovers a vast amount of American cultural history, it changes the way we understand the present. It is a book to celebrate- and reread. -- Dana Gioia, Poet and Former Chair, National Endowment for the Arts
This is a thrilling, sweeping overview of how--and why--poetry mattered (and still matters) to its readers. -- Angela Sorby * American Historical Review *

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