Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America

It's not every day that the P&PC Office gets to knock off early, put up streamers, call in the oompah band, and put out the punch bowl—this particular ship is much too tightly run to have much of that—but that's exactly what's on the docket for this coming October when Columbia University Press officially releases Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. The office interns are having a hard time hiding their excitement about it—and we'll admit to being a bit giddy too, as page proofs have just arrived for review—and they've convinced us to do two things to let off a little steam: leak the very cool cover design pictured here (check), and give the P&PC faithful first crack at getting a copy of their own, which can be pre-ordered here (double check).

Many of you know that Everyday Reading has been a long time in the making, and we're not about to get sentimental about it and all the people who made it possible just yet—not with five months to go before it actually drops—so we'll stick to the facts as dispassionately as possible for the time being. The book is 320 pages long, has five chapters and forty illustrations, and, roughly speaking, covers the years between the Progressive Era and the end of the Cold War. It's got vintage poetry scrapbooks and some of the stories of the people who assembled them; it goes back to some of the nationally-broadcast old time radio poetry shows that were so popular in the 1920s and 1930s that they sometimes received upwards of 50,000 fan letters per month; it takes more than a drive-by at the poetics of Burma-Shave billboards and other forms of advertising poetry; it gets a little gossipy in examining the Hallmark greeting card poetry written by the longtime director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Paul Engle, and how that experience might have shaped Engle's vision for what an M.F.A. program might be; and it hazards more than a guess or two at how this thriving, diverse culture of popular verse not only affected some of the canonical poets whom we read in English classes today but was also—before the advent of the Hollywood blockbuster film, television, rock and roll, video games, and the Internet—a driving force in the development of popular culture dynamics as we experience them today. "In a modern American fueled by consumer capitalism and new media and communication formats," the introduction reads in part, "poetry had tens of millions of readers." Who those readers were, who wrote (and oftentimes got paid for) that poetry, how it got used, why most of it's been forgotten, and why it's important for us to remember and study it now are some of the main questions Everyday Reading is after.

That's enough about Everyday Reading for now. Stop back in the coming weeks for a variety of new postings scheduled for the summer months including commentary from our new Periodic Consultant on the poetry (specifically the iambic pentameter) of organic chemistry; an interview with a famous paper specialist on the material poetics and cultural significance of Trader Joe's poem "Sonnet for a Paper Napkin"; a review of John Timberman Newcomb's new book from the University of Illinois Press, How Did Poetry Survive? The Making of Modern American Verse; the advertising of Walt Whitman as seen by our house Whitmaniac; and the poetry of bird watching, cat treats, and even—as P&PC keeps going, and going, and going—the Energizer bunny.