Monday, January 6, 2014

P&PC at MLA: Chicago's Poetry and the Making of Literary Modernism

P&PC is busy getting its parkas and long underwear out of storage in preparation for everyone's favorite-slash-least-favorite event of the year—the Modern Language Association's annual convention, being held at the end of this week (Thursday-Sunday) in balmy downtown Chicago where thermometers currently read a Windy-City-bracing negative nine degrees Fahrenheit. 

Things stand to warm up a little bit, though, especially on Saturday, January 11, when P&PC will be part of a panel titled "Chicago's Poetry and the Making of Literary Modernism," scheduled for 5:15-6:30 pm in the O'Hare conference room of the downtown Chicago Marriott. Unlike many conference activities, which require an official badge and paid-up elbow patches for entry, "Chicago's Poetry and the Making of Literary Modernism" is being made free and open to the public. Liesl Olson of Chicago's Newberry Library will be moderating and commenting, and the panel's speakers include Erin Kappeler and Sarah Ehlers, both of whom should be familiar voices to faithful P&PC readers. If you're in town, why not escape the cold and ice and stop on by? Here's a preview of what's in store.

The panel's first paper, Erin Kappeler's "Harriet Monroe's Museum," reconsiders the canonization of modern poetry by examining how Monroe's curatorial practices extended beyond the poetry she published to the readers Poetry addressed. In Poetry’s promotional materials, Monroe argued that the art form lacked an audience because it had no organized institutional support, but Poetry's editorial files tell a different story. In a series Monroe labeled her "museum" files, she singled out correspondence from lay readers and disgruntled would-be contributors not as evidence of poetry's missing audience but, rather, as evidence of the outmoded aesthetic paradigms Monroe intended Poetry to replace. The sheer volume and diversity of these letters show that, far from bringing poetry to readers who had been ignoring it, Monroe sought to discipline readers out of their promiscuous habits of consumption. This paper focuses especially on Monroe's gendered response to these "bad" readers to consider how modernist ideals of print circulation shaped the presentation of modernism to popular audiences in the 1910s and 1920s.

In "Set Vivid Against the Little Soft Cities: Outsourcing Chicago Modernism," Mike Chasar uses the relationship between Poetry magazine and poetic communities in Portland, Oregon, to argue that Poetry's early success depended upon the production of new verse around the country. Just as the railroads brought livestock to Chicago, so Poetry routed regional new verse movements through the city and used that verse to forward Chicago's profile as a modern center. Like a venture capitalist, Monroe visited Portland in 1926, establishing relationships with an active and coordinated modern poetry scene that was working out what modernism meant for the Pacific Northwest. Tracing circuits between Portland and Chicago, and following the new verse as it circulated far outside the sphere of Poetry in unexpected places such as church bulletins and funeral home brochures, Chasar argues that focusing on Poetry as a product of Chicago's modernism obscures how widespread the new verse movement was.

Building on Chasar's consideration of Chicago and Poetry's relationship to other geographic sites, Sarah Ehlers's "The Harriet Monroe Doctrine: Poetry's Interwar Internationalism" contextualizes changes in Poetry during the 1930s by looking at two significant archival sources: Monroe's unpublished letters and journals from the 1936 P.E.N Conference in Buenos Aries, and the collection of unpublished letters, tributes, and elegies sent to the Poetry office after Monroe's untimely death in South America. While at the conference, Monroe was consistently annoyed that conversations about poetry turned to "politics and split-hair metaphysics," and her responses to debates about poetry at the international writers conference provide insight into how she framed transnational literary histories of modern poetry in relation to U.S. cultural institutions. The events of the P.E.N. conference also reveal how discourses about the role of art amidst global political turmoil relate to how Poetry was conceived in Depression-era Chicago.

In "A Chicago Institution: The Harriet Monroe Collection and the Rise of the Modern Poetry Archive," Bart Brinkman compares Monroe's initial fundraising venture for Poetry to the formation of the Harriet Monroe Collection, willed to the University of Chicago upon Monroe's death in 1936. When Monroe initially sought funding for what would become Poetry, she pitched the magazine to potential donors as a Chicago cultural institution, not unlike a museum or an opera house. This institutionalization of Poetry would become more tangible upon Monroe's death. The Monroe Collection provides a detailed portrait of poetic modernism from the perspective of one of its key figures, housing thousands of rare books and magazines along with corrected proofs and strings of correspondences that illuminate authorial and editorial intention. Beyond having particular importance for investigating Poetry's role in modern poetry, the collection also illuminates the institutionalized collecting of modern poetry in the middle decades of the twentieth century more generally. 

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!