Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation argues that the state is the silent center of poetic production in the United States after WWII. “State Verse Culture” is the first history of the national poet, the Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress, whose office sits at the nexus of institutional actors of postwar poetry. Drawing on archival research at the Library of Congress and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, it traces the collusion of 1) federal bodies (The Library of Congress, The State Department, National Endowment for the Arts) with 2) literary-professional organizations (Poetry Society of America, Poetry magazine/The Poetry Foundation) and 3) private patrons (Paul Mellon, Ruth Lilly). The cooperation of public and private interests is crucial to the development of what I call state verse culture—recognizable at the first National Poetry Festival in 1962, and dominant following the end of the Cold War in the 1990s-2000s.
Chapter 1, “State Verse Scandals: Views from Yaddo, St Elizabeths, and the Library of Congress, 1945-1956” narrates the Bollingen Prize controversy of 1949 and the arbitration of literary capital between the Library, Poetry magazine and the university system. Chapter 2, “Inaugurating National Poetry: Robert Frost and Cold War Arts, 1956-1965” argues that the Frost-Kennedy years transformed the function of poetry in national culture. The phonocentric narrative poem provided the expressive agency of artist-citizens as ideological weaponry in the global Cold War, and a blueprint for national poets in the longer project of neoliberal identity formation. Chapter 3, “The Politics of Voice: The Workshop Poet and Poet Laureate as the Expressive Subject, 1965-1993” describes the rise of the creative writing program industry, and argues that the recentralization of poetic production in the academy after WWII is a twofold legacy: the MFA workshop poet and the poet-critic of the English Department constitute distinct cultural roles in postwar America. Chapter 4, “Civil versus Civic Verse: National Projects of U.S. Poets Laureate, 1991-2015,” examines Poets Laureate initiatives (Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project, Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry and Billy Collins’s Poetry 180) funded through the state verse culture nexus.
Paeth, Amy, "State Verse Culture: American Poets Laureate, 1945-2015" (2015). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 1928.