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American Passages: A Literary Survey

Poetry of Liberation Poetry of Liberation – Activities

Overview Questions

  • How do these authors broaden or complicate our concept of what it means to be American? What strategies do these authors use to express the predicament of marginalized peoples? How did civil rights and protest movements reshape the notion of what it means to be an American? What connections do you see between the poetry in this unit and the civil rights struggle?
  • How would you describe the mood or abiding intentions of American literature during this period? How does the experience of the Vietnam War affect the poetry of this period? What other social or political forces shaped the poetry of this time? How does feminism influence the poetry of the period? Where do you see the influence of popular culture?
  • Along with the New York school poets, the Beat poets were deeply influenced by life in the city. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, writers like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lucien Carr, all of whom had connections to Columbia University, met and discussed their new, experimental vision for poetry. New York culture, with its bustling nightlife and hosts of adventurous students, musicians, and artists, offered much for young rebels struggling to find a literary voice. By the middle 1950s, San Francisco also featured a lively and unconventional artistic community. When Ginsberg moved to San Francisco in 1954, he soon became a center of attention in a book-loving, verse-loving North Beach neighborhood where bohemian and gay lifestyles were tolerated to an extent that few other American metropolises could match. Literary historians often regard Ginsberg’s first public performance of Howl on October 7, 1955, as the inauguration of a “San Francisco Renaissance” and a demonstration that “Beat” culture had truly arrived. For more than thirty years after that night, San Francisco and New York City were meccas for radical and experimental art in America, places where authors such as Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and Audre Lorde learned from one another and formed powerful communities of verse. How does their urban setting shape the nature and themes of their work?
  • Gary Snyder, James Wright, and Theodore Roethke are often referred to as nature poets. What relationship do you see between their work and nature poets of the American nineteenth century? Where are the key differences?
  • Many of these poets used travel as a metaphor for a spiritual journey, and works like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road enjoyed astonishing popularity during the 1960s. What relationships do you see between this yearning for the open road and the sentiments of earlier American writers?
  • Describe some of the movements into which postwar poetry is classified. How did they develop? What interests and styles are identified with each school?
  • How does postwar poetry continue or transform the legacy of modernism? How do African American writers from this period build on ideas and politics inherited from the Harlem Renaissance?

Video Activities

What is American literature? What are its distinctive voices and styles? How do social and political issues influence the American canon?
Video Comprehension Questions: What are some of the characteristics of Beat poetry? How are the lifestyles of the Beat poets, like Allen Ginsberg, reflected in their art?
Context Questions: What is new about the poetry of this period? What kinds of values are the writers challenging?
Exploratory Questions: Poetry was often read at protest movements during this period. Why do you think poetry was given such high status? Is it awarded a similar place in political activism today?

What characteristics of a literary work have made it influential over time? 
Video Comprehension Questions: What does Adrienne Rich mean when she says that the personal is political? How does “Passage” enact this idea?
Context Questions: Allen Ginsberg cited James Wright as the single greatest influence on his own work. What do these poets share in terms of craft and personal style? Why would Ginsberg align himself with Whitman? How does Ginsberg represent Whitman in “A Supermarket in California”? What is this poem ultimately about?
Exploratory Questions: How did these poets and activists change or influence what it means to be an American? What values did they help to create or promote? What would you say has been the cultural legacy of the 1960s?

How are American myths created, challenged, and reimagined through these works of literature?
Video Comprehension Questions: In Dutchman Lula calls Clay “Uncle Tom.” What does she mean?
Context Questions: Amiri Baraka was originally connected to the Beat movement, but he split from it to concentrate on racial issues. Compare the sections of Howl read in the video to “Will They Cry When You’re Gone, You Bet.” What similarities do you see between Baraka’s poetry and Ginsberg’s?
Exploratory Questions: While the 1950s are often associated with peace, prosperity, and homogeneity, the authors in this unit expose how the often racist, sexist, and inequitable society sustained by such rhetoric was subject to revolutionary criticism during the 1960s and 1970s. Why does the former image of the 1950s endure? How do the ideas of radical change and strict historical periodization circumscribe or expand the messages and impact of these writers?

Creative Response

  1. Poet’s Corner: Reread Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Think about the values you associate with your generation. How would you describe the current youth culture? What are the defining moments in your generation? Write your own poem in which you strive to define your generation and its place in American culture and identity. If you wish, use Ginsberg’s phrase, “I saw the best minds of my generation . . . ,” to get you started.
  2. Journal: Imagine that you are Sylvia Plath, but still alive today, and have recently come across some reviews of your work that are sharply critical of your use of Holocaust imagery in poems such as “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy.” How do you respond to such criticism? How do you justify your use of these images? What do you think your poems gain by invoking the Holocaust?
  3. Doing History: Native Americans have preserved their history and heritage for hundreds of years by telling stories and using rituals to create a collective tribal memory. As the language and culture of many tribes threatens to disappear, many Native American writers feel compelled to write down these oral traditions. Using the archive, compare the oral (transcribed) and written histories of removal. How do the versions differ?
  4. Multimedia: You have been asked to speak at a local women’s college or high school. Using the archive and the poetry in this unit, develop a slideshow in which you highlight important moments in the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Be sure to leave your audience not only with a sense of how far women have come, but also with an idea of what might come next.

Problem-Based Learning Projects

“How can I get my students to think?” is a question asked by many faculty, regardless of their disciplines. Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method that challenges students to “learn to learn,” working cooperatively in groups to seek solutions to real world problems. These problems are used to engage students’ curiosity and initiate learning the subject matter. PBL prepares students to think critically and analytically, and to find and use appropriate learning resources.” — Barbara Duch, University of Delaware

  1. You have been asked to design a retrospective of 1960s America. Using the archive and literature in this unit, choose around ten items (a poem or a single image or soundclip might count as an item) that you feel are representative of the decade. Write a few paragraphs explaining your choices. How did you decide on these items? What values seem most important in this decade? How do your chosen items reflect those? What did it mean to be an American in the 1960s?
  2. You work for a standardized test company, and your team has just been asked to write a test unit on postwar America. Compose an essay exam for your students. Write three or four questions that you would like to have the students explore. What themes seem important to the period? What symbols or images have remained influential? What knowledge should a group of students be expected to have about postwar America?
  3. You are a reporter for the New York Times, and you’ve been asked to write a series on the legacy of the Black Arts movement. What concepts or values from that movement are still alive? How has the perception of African Americans changed? What kinds of changes do you see? What elements of popular culture are indebted to the Black Arts movement?

The War in Vietnam: The War at Home

[7360] Frank Moffit, SPC 5, Vietnam . . . A Sky Trooper from the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) Keeps Track of the Time He Has Left on His “Short Time” Helmet (1968), courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

America emerged from World War II as a superpower with a dramatically transformed foreign policy. The United States became, in historian Mary Sheila McMahon’s words, “a more activist and outward-looking state” as it purported to defend democratic ideals. The government felt that to protect American self-interests, defend itself against the Stalinist Soviet Union and Maoist China, and promote capitalistic democracy worldwide, it had to abandon its tradition of isolationism. With the onset of the Cold War, the perceived threat of Soviet and Red Chinese aggression strengthened the government’s resolve to protect its interests everywhere. This resolve led to interventions in the autonomy of other nations and increased anxiety at home about “subversive” political and social movements. After the escalation of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s, the conflict and its heavy casualties divided the country dramatically. U.S. involvement in Vietnam killed more than 50,000 Americans and lasted longer than the fighting in both world wars combined.

The Vietnam War was a protracted struggle in jungles, swamps, and other difficult terrain, a war with no front lines and two adversaries: the North Vietnamese Army, a well-trained, well-equipped force with decades of experience in guerrilla warfare, and the Vietcong, a South Vietnamese army of dedicated irregulars, genius in the tactics of hit-and-run, and adept at blending in with a civilian population whose loyalties were always in doubt. By the middle of 1968, promises of a quick conclusion had melted away, and a series of catastrophic engagements–the Tet Offensive, the siege of Khe Sanh, the battle for Hue, which nearly destroyed the second largest city in the Republic of Vietnam–brought many Americans to the sobering recognition that the war could continue for a very long time, and that the prospects of a real victory were dim. Another source of moral conflict in the United States was the configuration of the American Armed Forces, and of American casualties, as a result of provisions of the draft. Because college students before 1970 were deferred from conscription, campuses became places of temporary and uneasy refuge, where male students were keenly aware of a countdown to graduation and a coming forfeiture of protection; meanwhile, the front-line forces in Southeast Asia were filled with young men from working-class, inner-city, and minority backgrounds, men who lacked the money and the connections to spare them from military service. As the reasons for continuing the war grew more and more confused in the minds of troops abroad and Americans at home, the resistance to the war grew exponentially in 1968 and 1969; demonstrations in Washington, D.C., New York, and other cities drew hundreds of thousands of people.

When Richard Nixon took office in January 1969, the American government implemented two strategies to cool the domestic resistance and find a way out of the conflict: (1) a “Vietnamization” of the combat forces, which meant that American troops would be gradually moved away from direct combat, and (2) a draft lottery, which ended the college deferment and determined eligibility for conscription on the basis of randomly chosen birth dates. For a while, these changes did have some of the intended effect, but the May 1970 killing of student protesters by National Guard troops at Kent State and Jackson State, two college campuses, brought about a nationwide student strike. With the support of faculty and administrators, many campuses shut down almost completely until the end of the academic year.

Many of the poets writing during this period responded directly to the Vietnam conflict or expressed a heightened distrust of authority. Repelled also by the general assumption that America could fight a major war and indulge itself materialistically at the same time, some poets looked to leftist politics for an alternate vision of what the United States could be. The Vietnam conflict and the protests against the war were also, in a sense, media events. For the first time in history, television crews could send full-color videotape quickly home from a battlefield halfway around the world, and domestic TV crews could bring violent confrontations with police and National Guardsmen directly into the living room. Not surprisingly, depictions of the human body as a site of suffering, resistance, and sacrifice turn up frequently in literature written during and about these years.

Questions

  1. Comprehension: What are some of the reasons Americans protested against the Vietnam War? Why did this conflict raise such opposition at home?
  2. Comprehension: How did the Vietnam protest movements change American culture? What values are associated with the Vietnam era? How did the Vietnam War change the public’s attitude towards the government?
  3. Context: Although Howl was written in 1954, there are several references to capitalism and at least one reference (line 32) to communism. What is Ginsberg’s attitude toward American capitalism and Soviet communism? Based on what you know of his lifestyle and the Beat movement, how do you think Ginsberg responded to the Vietnam War?
  4. Context: Although the Vietnam War was a defining event for a generation of poets, few of the poems in this unit directly address the conflict. Why? Do you see more subtle evidence of the war’s influence?
  5. Exploration: During the height of the Vietnam protests in the late 1960s, many men and women donned Vietcong uniforms in order to make a dramatic political statement. Why do you think protesters dressed in Vietcong uniforms? What statement were they trying to make?
  6. Exploration: Literary critic and poet Peter Sacks has argued that elegies not only memorialize the dead, but seek to take the reader and poet through a mourning process, thereby helping the reader recover from fears of mortality and move beyond loss. Some critics have argued that in the era following Hiroshima and the Holocaust, the appropriate mourner would not recover from her “melancholia,” but would mourn the loss of the dead in perpetuity. Compare elegiac poems on Vietnam (e.g., Denise Levertov’s “What Were They Like?”) to Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” and Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead.” What sources of consolation does each poet provide? What role does language play in this consolation? Do any of these poems seem to see an end to mourning?

Archive
[3043] John A. Gentry, LCpl, Vietnam . . . Private First Class Joseph Big Medicine Jr., a Cheyenne Indian, Writes a Letter to His Family in the United States (1969), 
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. 
Soldier from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, on a clear, search and destroy mission near An Hoa. U.S. military destruction in Vietnam encouraged antiwar protesters and distrust of the government. Writer Grace Paley, who described herself as a “combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist,” was deeply involved in the antiwar movement.

[6217] Cameron Lawrence, It Is a Sin to Be Silent When It Is Your Duty to Protest (1971), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress. 
Feminist and activist poet Adrienne Rich’s work provokes readers to see the connections between the struggle for women’s rights and other movements, including that against the war in Vietnam.

[7360] Frank Moffit, SPC 5, Vietnam . . . A Sky Trooper from the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) Keeps Track of the Time He Has Left on His “Short Time” Helmet (1968), 
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. 
Soldier, part of Operation Pershing, near Bong Son. By 1968, many Americans were ambivalent about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Most of the soldiers drafted after 1965 were troubled by their role in what they saw as a morally ambiguous conflict. A variety of American poets protested the war, including Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Robert Bly, Robert Lowell, Adrienne Rich, James Wright, and Galway Kinnell.

[7361] Anonymous, Vietnam War Protesters (1967), 
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration [NRE-21-KANSWICHCR-CR928-WICH1895]. 
Wichita, Kansas, protest against the Vietnam War. Antiwar protests were major cultural events in the 1960s and early 1970s. Many writers and artists participated, including Adrienne Rich, whose work became more explicitly political during this time.

[7362] Phil Stanziola, 800 Women Strikers for Peace on 47th St. near the UN Building (1962), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-128465]. 
Women protest for peace. Antiwar sentiment grew throughout the 1960s as some Americans became more critical of the Cold War mentality. Throughout the Cold War, the United States became increasingly involved in international conflicts that had high American death tolls and no apparent resolution, such as the Korean and Vietnam wars.

[8619] Various, Don’t Mourn, Organize: SDS Guide to Community Organizing (1968), 
courtesy of Special Collections, Michigan State University Libraries. 
Students for a Democratic Society’s Guide to Community Organizing. Some of the articles in this guide address organization and resistance to the war beyond draft dodging, the original focus of SDS actions. One article discusses the various responses of poor whites to black rebellion and violence during the ghetto uprisings in the summer of 1967. Michael Harper’s poem “A Mother Speaks: The Algiers Motel Incident, Detroit” was inspired by the Detroit riot of 1967.

The Beat Generation: Living (and Writing) on the Edge

[5681] Anonymous, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac & Peter Lafcadio, Mexico City (n.d.), courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix . . .”

When Allen Ginsberg performed these first lines of Howl in the crowded Six Gallery in San Francisco, the 150 people in the audience began cheering. As Kenneth Rexroth remembers, Americans were feeling oppressed by what he called “an undeclared military state,” a government that seemed out of control, and a culture that seemed more interested in mass consumerism than morals or aesthetics. Ginsberg’s voice immediately became a voice of hope and change. Poet Michael McClure describes the immediate visceral response to Howl: “Everyone knew at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America and its supporting armies and navies and academies and institutions and ownership systems and power-support bases.” By the time Ginsberg reached the end of Howl, the cheers were so loud that it was difficult to hear him read, but when he had finished, history had been made. The Beat movement had become an officially recognized force in the literary and cultural landscape.

The Beat Generation, as it came to be called, claims a number of well-known writers, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the founder of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. The Beat authors covered in this unit include Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Amiri Baraka (Baraka dropped his allegiance to the Beats as he began to emphasize the African American roots of his poetic voice). These writers looked to unconventional role models, or “Secret Heroes” as Ginsberg labeled them, like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Arthur Rimbaud, and Dylan Thomas. What all these earlier artists shared was noncanonical status, experimental artistic style, and a fast-paced, unorthodox lifestyle. The word “beat” was a slang term used by postwar jazz musicians to mean down and out, or poor and exhausted. It also suggested “dead beat” or “beat-up.” The adoption of the word “beat” to describe this generation of poets is generally credited to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who claimed that the word meant “exhausted, at the bottom of the world, looking up or out, sleepless, wide-eyed, perceptive, rejected by society, on your own, streetwise.” Kerouac later credited the term with a philosophical dimension, meaning beatitude or beatific. Proclaiming themselves the Beat Generation ironically helped these writers gain a sense of identity as outsiders. Although Ginsberg, Kerouac, and other early members of the group met in New York City, San Francisco eventually became the hub of the Beat movement. San Francisco, even more than New York City, was home to a thriving alternative culture, where radical ideas and lifestyles were welcomed.

When Ginsberg’s Howl was eventually published in a collection, a court trial over its alleged obscenity only heightened its popularity, and the publicity it generated along with the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) brought word of the movement into the American heartland. The Beat Generation became synonymous with counterculture, rebellion, and bohemian living. These writers refused to conform to traditional middle-class values; they rejected materialism and organized religion, and searched instead for alternative ways to find spiritual understanding. The Beats looked to Eastern religion, with its emphasis on meditation and communion with nature. Some of them experimented with mind-altering drugs. Many of the Beat poets were openly homosexual, and their candor on the taboo subject of same-sex relationships helped pave the way for the gay rights movement in the 1970s.

Beat literature is characterized by a vigorous rejection of traditional social, sexual, political, and religious values. Although much writing of the time could be described as experimental, Beat writing shares a set of recognizable features, including spontaneity, a penchant for surreal imagery, juxtaposition, long lines, aggressive individualism, an interest in the writing process, the practice of automatic writing, a fascination with drug-induced states, and a general interest in life on the edges of society.

Questions

  1. Comprehension: What are some of the features that characterize Beat poetry?
  2. Comprehension: What kinds of values did the Beat Generation uphold?
  3. Context: Ginsberg’s poem Howl is often taken as a kind of manifesto for the movement. What features, formal and thematic, seem to characterize both this poem and the Beat movement as a whole?
  4. Context: What does Baraka’s poetry share with the Beat movement? How does race complicate his association with this group?
  5. Context: How does Snyder’s attitude toward nature fit in with the Beat Generation’s outlook?
  6. Exploration: William Carlos Williams was an American modernist poet known for celebrating everyday American speech and writing poems about ordinary subjects. In some ways, his compressed verse seems antithetical to the fluid, lengthy lines typical of much Beat poetry. However, Williams was an early admirer of Ginsberg’s poetry. What might Williams have found attractive about this younger man’s work?
  7. Exploration: Beat writers express a strong connection to physical places and locations. America’s cities and landscapes are often crucial to their work. How do these writers treat physical space? You might consider looking at Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, Gary Snyder’s “August on Sourdough, A Visit from Dick Brewer,” and Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman. With what aspects of America do these writers identify? Why is traveling so important to these poets?

Archive
[5681] Anonymous, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac & Peter Lafcadio, Mexico City (n.d.), 
courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust. 
The Beat Movement arose at the height of 1950s conservatism and eventually gave birth to the more broad-based counterculture movements of the 1960s. The Beats looked to non-traditional role models like jazz artists Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and the French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud.

[5683] John Doss, Allen Ginsberg at Madame Nhu Protest, 1963 (1963), 
courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust and the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries. 
Allen Ginsberg is pictured here in front of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, after the anti-Madame Nhu demonstration of 1963. Madame Nhu, wife of the head of the secret police in Vietnam, was the official hostess of the U.S.-controlled South Vietnamese government. When a Buddhist monk immolated himself in Saigon as a protest against the government’s favoritism of Catholicism (the majority of South Vietnamese were Buddhist), Madame Nhu called the suicide a “barbecue” and offered to light the match for the next one. When she came to the University of California, Berkeley, campus in 1963, she was met with a wide variety of protests.

[6254] Anonymous, Ginsberg with Hal Chase, Jack Kerouac & William Burroughs (c. 1944), 
courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust. 
Photograph taken near Columbia University, where many Beat poets and writers were students. Beat writers expressed their disenchantment with American conformity.

[6505] Anonymous, The Howl Trial, San Francisco Municipal Court, 1957 (1957), 
courtesy of City Lights Books. 
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, arrested for publishing Ginsberg’s poem, comments on the Howl obscenity trial: “The prosecution put only two ‘expert witnesses’ on the stand–both very lame samples of academia–one from the Catholic University of San Francisco and one a private elocution teacher, a beautiful woman, who said, ‘You feel like you are going through the gutter when you have to read that stuff. I didn’t linger on it too long, I assure you.’ The University of San Francisco instructor said: ‘The literary value of the poem is negligible. . . . This poem is apparently dedicated to a long-dead movement, Dadaism, and some late followers of Dadaism. And, therefore, the opportunity is long past for any significant literary contribution of this poem.”

[7537] Anonymous, Allen Ginsberg Uncensored Poetry Reading in Washington Square Park (1966), 
courtesy of the Associated Press AP. 
Allen Ginsberg was born in New Jersey in 1926 and attended Columbia University; while a student, he was greatly influenced by William Burroughs.

[8911] Michael Bibby, Interview: American Passages: Poetry of Liberation (2003), 
courtesy of American Passages and Annenberg Media
Professor Michael Bibby discusses Ginsberg’s attitude toward the government and society.

Black Arts: A Separate Voice

[7138] Anonymous, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) Leads the Black Arts Parade Down 125th Toward the Black Arts Theater Repertory/School on 130th Street, New York City (1965), courtesy of The Liberator.

The Black Arts movement arose alongside the Black Power movement in the 1960s. The movement flourished from 1965 to about 1975, and though it was short-lived, its legacy was long. Artists typically associated with Black Arts include Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Ed Bullins, Harold Cruse, Adrienne Kennedy, Larry Neal, and Sonia Sanchez. Black Arts, according to writer Larry Neal, was an ethical movement, meaning that the artists, from poets and playwrights to painters and musicians, believed that art must have a political purpose and that it must be experienced by the masses. Rather than writing modernist poetry with racial themes, as poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Hayden had done in the 1940s and 1950s, the Black Arts poets worked to express a distinctly black aesthetic derived from black experience and a long African American oral tradition. Black Arts authors sought a new kind of audience; they wrote for the masses in the American ghettoes, and they wrote to bring this vast community together.

However, the Black Arts movement was controversial because it was characterized by an impulse toward separatism and militancy. In the late 1960s, a great deal of anger characterized the outlook of many African Americans. Catchphrases like “Black Pride,” “Black Power,” and “Black Is Beautiful” caught the attention of the black community (as well as the rest of America). Powerful symbols and images, like the Afro or the raised black fist silk-screened on shirts and posters, reinforced this new sense of racial pride. Afro-American studies departments were founded in universities across America, and English departments began to include literature by black writers on their syllabi.

The Black Arts movement had a profound impact on the poetry of the period, including poetry that emerged out of the Chicano movement, the Asian American movement, and the Native American Renaissance. Literature was judged first and foremost by its political message. Did the poetry incite action? Did the verse further the political cause for blacks? This shift in focus from aesthetics to politics was a radical moment in African American art, but in many ways, this poetry was similar to much of the other verse being written at the time by the Beats and feminists. They, like their counterparts, were protesting a whole range of societal problems. As critic David Perkins argues, the Black Arts movement “had many characteristics of an avant-garde movement. It was anti-establishment, continually self-dividing into factions, preoccupied with defining itself and its aims, prolific of manifestos and enormously confident of its own vitality and importance.”

The movement lost energy in the 1970s as the political and social climate improved for blacks, thanks to the civil rights movement, and the imperative to be political and to appeal to the masses grew wearisome for many artists who wanted to grow and find new readers. The legacy of the Black Arts movement, however, remains important to current literature. The poets of the 1960s deserve much credit for changing the way the black community and the rest of society view blackness; indeed, they helped to instill a sense of pride in blacks everywhere with poems like “Coal,” “Black Mother Woman,” and “The Woman Thing.” Their work inspired black poets to use realistic dialect and speech in their poetry, and they also urged them to express black experience more honestly than ever before. This paved the way for black poets to write in a more confessional manner, incorporating intimate personal experience into their work.

Questions

  1. Comprehension: What are the features of the Black Arts movement? What relationship did poets and writers see between art and politics?
  2. Comprehension: How would you describe the political and social climate within which the Black Arts movement developed?
  3. Comprehension: What relationship do you see between the values and styles of the Black Arts movement and those of rap, hip-hop, or other musical forms in American popular culture? What is achieved when politicized art gains a mass audience? What can be lost in the process?
  4. Context: What do you think attracted Baraka and other Black Arts writers to the Beat movement in the 1950s and 1960s? What characteristics of Beat poetry continued in the work of these African American writers?
  5. Context: How does Audre Lorde’s poetry fit into the Black Arts movement? What features does her poetry share with this new direction in poetry?
  6. Exploration: We live in a time when entertainment and popular culture industries quickly notice, adapt, and exploit trends in alternative communities and “countercultures,” to the extent that it can be difficult to tell the original or the radical from the commercial copy. In the late 1960s, rock FM radio stations sprang up across the country, and “Blaxploitation” films were produced by Hollywood to reflect and profit from the race consciousness that had grown strong in African American communities. If you are interested in the history of popular music, consider the recordings of African American groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s: Funkadelic; Sly and the Family Stone; Earth, Wind and Fire. Consider also the dramatic changes in the sound of Motown artists who were already well established by the late 1960s: The Temptations, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and others. If you are interested in film, sample some of the Blaxploitation films that have enjoyed a long life on video: Shaft, Superfly, Blackula, Putney Swope, Sweet Sweetback’s Baad-assss Song. Such films are often grouped together at rental outlets. As you look and listen, speculate about these works as cultural artifacts. Do they show us the sensibility of the Black Arts movement? An exploitation or caricature of that sensibility? Or some mingling of the two?
  7. Exploration: Social historians have sometimes suggested that the ideology of the Black Arts poets was essentially counter to the values of Martin Luther King Jr., who emphasized nonviolent protest and harmony among races in America and the world. Where do you see affinity between works from the Black Arts movement and the values of King and the civil rights movement? What debt might the Black Arts movement owe to King?
  8. Exploration: In light of what you’ve learned about the Black Arts movement, reread the selections from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. In the 1960s, Ellison was often vilified by younger African American writers for being too “literary” in the white sense, for emulating forms and styles of Faulkner, Joyce, Emerson, Mark Twain, and other white authors. Does Ellison nonetheless qualify as a subversive or revolutionary writer? Compare the resistance of Invisible Man to the resistance of the Black Arts movement. What are the strengths and limitations of each as political art?

Archive
[3011] Austin Hansen, Eartha Kitt Teaching a Dance Class at Harlem YMCA (c. 1955), 
courtesy of Joyce Hansen and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. 
Eartha Kitt came to New York as a child and grew up in a vibrant Harlem. An acclaimed dancer, singer, international cabaret performer, and 1950s sex symbol, Kitt began her dance career with the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe at age seventeen. Kitt was blacklisted for almost a decade after speaking out against the Vietnam War in 1968.

[6714] Romare Bearden, The Family (1976), 
courtesy of the Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. 
Romare Bearden gained international recognition for the powerful visual metaphors and probing analysis of African American heritage in his collages, photomontages, watercolors, and prints. He was a member of the Harlem Artists Guild and had his first solo exhibition in 1940 at the age of twenty-nine. He had many literary friends, including James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Albert Murray.

[7138] Anonymous, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) Leads the Black Arts Parade Down 125th Toward the Black Arts Theater Repertory/School on 130th Street, New York City (1965), 
courtesy of The Liberator. 
Influenced by civil rights activism and black nationalism, Baraka (Jones) and other African American artists opened the Black Arts Theater in Harlem in 1965.

[7140] Emory, One of Our Main Purposes Is to Unify Brothers and Sisters in the North with Our Brothers and Sisters in the South (c. 1970), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-10248]. 
Political poster for the Black Panthers. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Black Panthers and black nationalist writers emphasized the need for solidarity among African Americans and people of African descent throughout the world.

[7234] Anonymous, “The Evil System of Colonialism and Imperialism Arose and Throve with the Enslavement of Negroes and the Trade in Negroes, and It Will Surely Come to an End with the Complete Emancipation of Black People” (c. 1970), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-995]. 
This poster shows the power of action and demonstration in effecting change for disenfranchised, marginalized, and persecuted peoples. It draws on and is titled after a quotation from Mao Tse-tung.

The Women's Movement: Diving into the Wreck

[7362] Phil Stanziola, 800 Women Strikers for Peace on 47th Street near the UN Building (1962), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-128465].

Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck” encapsulates the spirit of the women’s movement in the 1960s. Fighting for a voice, women, from artists to housewives, joined together and demanded to be heard. Rich’s poem speaks to this sense of inclusion in the first line, where she uses the first-, second-, and third-person to address the reader, signaling that both as individuals and as a community women need to fight for their equality. In this poem, however, the battle begins with finding a voice and making sure that the “book of myths in which our names do not appear” is rewritten to include the experience of women. The intimacy between artist and reader in this poem characterizes the art produced by feminist writers like Anne Sexton, Audre Lorde, and Sylvia Plath.

Although Second Wave Feminism, or “Women’s Lib,” didn’t gain national attention until the late 1960s, women across America were voicing protest much earlier. The prevailing domestic ideology of the 1950s not only told women that their place was in the home caring for the family, but also tried to convince them that, unless there was something wrong with them, they should find complete fulfillment in that role. For many women, these societal standards proved stifling, and as the decade progressed, some women were becoming increasingly frustrated by the standards imposed upon them and the lack of choices they could make in a culture that perceived women who were unmarried or pursuing careers as socially aberrant. In addition, with the growth of the advertising industry and a new influx of consumer products, many families wanted both spouses to earn wages in the hopes of increasing their buying power. But as women went out in search of jobs, they quickly realized that their options were limited. Although society seemed to encourage women to stay home, more women than ever before were attending college. It was not uncommon for women to receive degrees from prestigious colleges only to be told that their single option was to become housewives. By revising fairytales and myths, poets such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton satirized the constrictive roles forced upon women, thereby laying the groundwork for later feminist work.

These cultural standards were so ingrained that many women either felt guilty for wanting to break the mold or found it difficult, if not impossible, to articulate their feelings of alienation and frustration. When Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique hit the shelves in 1963, American society changed as Friedan’s articulation of the desperation women felt resonated with women across the country. At the end of the first chapter of this radical work, Friedan outlines her argument poignantly:

If I am right, the problem that has no name stirring in the minds of so many American women today is not a matter of loss of femininity or too much education, or the demands of domesticity. . . . It may well be the key to our future as a nation and a culture. We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.”

Friedan’s landmark book raised consciousness about women’s roles and changed many Americans’ view of how a household should be structured.

Despite the dominant ideology of the time, there were many women, particularly college students, who were active in what scholar Alice Echols has termed the “climate of protest.” These women took part in marches, sit-ins, and speak-outs during the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam protests. Like the earlier alliance between the abolitionist groups and suffragists, the feminist movement shared much with the other movements of the 1960s. While these female activists did not find much support for gender issues among these other groups, their participation in various movements prepared them well for their later struggle for women’s liberation. They learned tactics of civil disobedience, gained practice speaking publicly, and began to see their bodies as sites of resistance. Likewise, the women’s movement shared some of the philosophical underpinnings of the wider protest movement. The women’s movement of this era has, however, been criticized for espousing middle-class, white values and for assuming that all female experience is similar. In fact, many groups, including the poor and African Americans, felt that the women’s movement excluded them, and feminists have remained divided on issues of audience and inclusion.

Labeled Second Wave Feminism because it followed the Suffragist movement earlier in the century, the women’s movement rattled American society. While this new feminism fought hard against the values forwarded by 1950s society, the liberation movement also took on more specific battles. Central to these new feminists was the fight to gain control over their own bodies. With new advances in medical technology, the birth control pill became available for the first time in 1961. For feminists, the ability to control their reproductive fate was necessary to liberation, and they fought for the right to choose abortion, to have access to birth control, and to educate women about their bodies and their sexuality. In a society that often refused to discuss sexuality or even female anatomy with any degree of candor, the feminist movement’s resolve to raise consciousness about the workings of the female body itself proved radical.

Feminists also fought to change society’s perceptions of women. They did not simply want to open thousands of childcare facilities, but rather they wanted to change the perception that childcare is the sole responsibility of the woman and mother. As many feminists argued, the battle for liberation had to begin at home, where women had traditionally been expected to shoulder the domestic burdens. Domestic chores and responsibilities would have to be shared by men if women were to gain equal opportunity in other spheres. Feminists also raised awareness about the objectification of women, particularly the damaging effects of unattainable standards of beauty heralded by the media and popular culture. For example, Sylvia Plath’s poem “The Applicant” critiques the ways in which American culture, and particularly the world of advertising and women’s magazines, objectifies women and forces them (and men) into confining roles. The women’s movement struggled to expose the often painful and uncomfortable lengths women were encouraged to go to in pursuit of beauty. In protest, feminists burned bras, girdles, high-heeled shoes, and other items which they perceived as symbolic of their objectification. One of the most publicized protests occurred in September 1968 when a large group of feminists demonstrated at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. Their witty slogans and fierce criticism of the event as degrading and sexist sparked debate around the country and did much to raise awareness of the movement’s growing intensity.

Poetry proved important to the women’s movement, in part because it helped to build solidarity and a shared set of images among women of the time. In fact, poetry readings were often integral parts of rallies and protests during this time. As literary critic Michael Bibby argues in his work on poetry in the Vietnam era, the feminist poetry written in the 1960s is characterized by a radical openness about the personal experience of women, and the poetry openly celebrates the female body and sexuality. For the first time, female poets were writing literature about menstruation, childbirth, and eroticism. The immense popularity of poets like Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton illustrates the profound relationship between the personal and political. Although Plath’s best-known poems were written before the women’s movement really took off, her work was published post-humously from the mid-1960s on, and her defiant voice, unforgettable images, and struggle for a creative identity separate from the confines of domesticity made her work an icon of the movement. The poetry of Rich and Sexton was celebrated for the same reasons. Rich also contributed hosts of essays that have become central to feminist theory today, and her identity as a lesbian became a political statement that seemed to mark a new direction in feminism. Rich’s notion of the lesbian continuum, in which sexuality is not either/or, but rather is better understood as a range, remains one of the key concepts in queer theory.

Feminist poets also responded to literary currents perceived as predominantly male. Nikki Giovanni and Audre Lorde, for example, represent female voices in the Black Arts movement, and poems like “The Woman Thing” and “Coal” offer a feminist view of the new black aesthetic. Other women of color, including Joy Harjo and Lorna Dee Cervantes, also helped to broaden the representation of women in feminist poetry. There were also several female poets associated with the Beat movement, notably Diane DiPrima. The university was also an important instrument of change. Women’s studies departments emerged, syllabi were gradually broadened to include female authors, and female scholars were changing the face of literary criticism. Critics like Elaine Showalter (A Literature of Their Own) and Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (The Madwoman in the Attic) were forcing scholars, students, and readers not only to recognize women’s literature, but also to rethink the canon as a whole.

 

Questions

  1. Comprehension: What was the relationship of the women’s movement to other protest movements of the time?
  2. Comprehension: What roles does the female body play in the women’s movement?
  3. Context: Scholar Wayne Booth has famously noted the rhetorical power of metaphors. By making comparisons, metaphors have influence on symbolic and emotional levels, in addition to literal ones. In “Daddy,” Sylvia Plath compares the oppression of women by their fathers to the treatment of Jews by the Nazis. What is gained by this comparison? What is lost? What allusions and comparisons does Plath make in her other poems? You might look at “The Applicant,” “Lady Lazarus,” or “Morning Song.”
  4. Context: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich both identified themselves as lesbians. How does sexual orientation influence their poetry? How do you see the relationship between the personal and the political? Is there a sense in which identifying oneself as lesbian might be seen as a political statement? Why or why not?
  5. Exploration: Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich are feminist poets whose work is characterized by a memorable voice, an intimate connection between reader and poetic speaker, and an honest, often raw portrayal of female experience. What is the poetic legacy of writers like Plath and Rich? Can you think of any poets writing today that seem similar to or indebted to these authors?
  6. Exploration: Feminists saw the female body as a site of political struggle and suffering, and that vision was intensified during the Supreme Court’s hearing of Roe v. Wade in the early 1970s. These women battled to gain reproductive rights, educate women about their bodies, raise awareness about rape and domestic violence, and encourage women to value their natural beauty. How does the body function as a symbol in feminist poetry of this period? You might look at Audre Lorde’s “Black Mother Woman,” Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus,” Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck,” or Anne Sexton’s “Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman.”

Archive
[3010] Austin Hansen, Woman and Baby Evicted from Their Harlem Apartment, 1950s (c. 1950s), 
courtesy of Joyce Hansen and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. 
This photo’s echoes of the traditional iconography of the Madonna and Child comment ironically on life in inner-city New York. Gwendolyn Brooks’s work addresses the struggles of raising children in poverty.

[3296] Dick DeMarsico, Protesting A-Bomb Tests (1962), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-126854].
Demonstrators protesting U.S. testing of atomic weapons. The use of nuclear weapons in World War II prompted a variety of responses from U.S. citizens, including fear, protest, and feelings of alienation.

[6180] United Women’s Contingent, When Women Decide This War Should End, This War Will End: Join the United Women’s Contingent on April 24 (1971), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-6882]. 
Protest poster against the Vietnam War. The antiwar, civil rights, women’s rights, and gay liberation movements were connected politically and artistically. In 1961, writer and activist Grace Paley founded the Greenwich Village Peace Center, which was integral to draft resistance during the Vietnam War.

[6181] Peg Averill, When Women Become Massively Political the Revolution Will Have Moved to a New Level . . . (1976), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [CN POS 6-U.S., no. 39 (C size) <P&P>]. 
Poster of a woman in whose flowing hair is pictured a setting sun and silhouettes of soldiers. The woman’s movement was closely allied to the peace movement. The National Organization for Women’s 1966 statement of purpose began as follows: “We, men and women who hereby constitute ourselves as the National Organization for Women, believe that the time has come for a new movement toward true equality for all women in America, and toward a fully equal partnership of the sexes, as part of the world-wide revolution of human rights now taking place within and beyond our national borders.”

[6182] Ivy Bottin, Woman Power (1965), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [POS 6-U.S., no. 548 (C size) <P&P>]. 
Members of the women’s movement sought to change the dominant perception that all women could be satisfied by lives as homemakers. Many feminists argued that the fight for liberation must begin at home, where men should share in domestic chores.

[6190] Marcia Salo, I Am a Woman Giving Birth to Myself (1973), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [CN POS 6-U.S., no. 306 (C size) <P&P>] and the Times Change Press. 
For many of the women involved in the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s, there was an intense connection between the personal and the political. Central to these new feminists was the fight to gain control over their bodies, as a woman’s control of her reproductive fate was necessary for true liberation. The feminists’ resolve to increase education about female anatomy and reproductive health was, at the time, radical.

[6932] Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in S.E. Asia, Pull Him Out Now: Join with the Hundreds and Thousands of Students, GI’s, Women, Unionists, Puerto Ricans, Gay People . . . (c. 1970), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress. 
Political poster protesting U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. The antiwar movement linked and encouraged a number of other movements, including the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, and the farm workers’ movement. Many American poets protested the war, including Adrienne Rich, Robert Lowell, and Allen Ginsberg.

[7362] Phil Stanziola, 800 Women Strikers for Peace on 47th St. near the UN Building (1962), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-128465]. 
Women protest for peace. Antiwar sentiment grew throughout the 1960s as some Americans became more critical of the Cold War mentality. Throughout the Cold War, the United States became increasingly involved in international conflicts that had high American death tolls and no apparent resolution, such as the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Poetry of Transcendence: Poets Look to the American Landscape

[4999] Anonymous, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzer (Left to Right) Standing in Front of a Ten Foot Plaster Buddha (1965), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-119239].

The postwar period was in many ways imbued with an atmosphere of spiritual searching. The younger generation in particular, which included many of the poets in this unit, was desperately seeking what they termed transcendent experience. Native American culture and religion, as well as the rise of the New Age movement, provided one answer to this spiritual searching. Poets like Gary Snyder and James Wright were particularly drawn to Native American culture, an interest probably prompted in part by the rise of the American Indian movement, which insisted on the power of traditional ways even as it sought to make real political changes. Indian tradition, which featured sweat lodges, sun dance revivals, and other rituals, became popular during this time. Peyote, also central to Native American religion and culture, held particular interest for the Beat poets, who experimented with a wide array of hallucinogens. Peyote is a flower on a cactus that contains the drug mescaline, which is similar to LSD. As a rite of passage into manhood, Indian boys would take the drug and go on a “vision quest,” during which they would wander around the wilderness for several days, experiencing drug-induced visions. Such rituals were appealing to a generation that yearned for transcendent experience and believed that the mind harbored fascinating and meaningful abilities untapped by the “normal” mode of living. Likewise, the New Age movement encouraged people to believe in alternate states of reality, to believe in crystals and visions, and to look inward for spiritual meaning.

In addition to their interest in Native American culture and New Age practices, the meditative poets were also inspired by nature and the outdoors. Alongside the fiercely political poetry written during this period, poets like James Wright, Robert Bly, and Galway Kinnell were writing verse that seemed defiantly silent on social issues. Instead of tackling the political and social shortcomings of mainstream America head-on, this group of “meditative” poets protested the state of society by turning away from civilization and looking instead to nature and the land as a source of inspiration. In an era in which mankind was not only slowly poisoning itself, but seemed also to be toying with its newfound power to destroy itself and the world, these poets saw technology as extremely dangerous. They lamented the urbanization that seemed to be creeping outward from the cities, as suburbia spread over the American landscape. During the 1950s, the government undertook the largest highway expansion program in American history, and road construction, with all its noisy machinery, unfurled across the country. The environment seemed to be under siege as reports of oil spills, strip mines, and increased pollution filled the newspapers. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring announced the devastating effects of DDT on the environment, and its publication triggered growing awareness about environmental and ecological problems plaguing the country and the globe. The list of endangered species grew steadily. Indeed, to many of these poets, civilization was threatening nature and the environment like never before. In the face of this modernization and a burgeoning global economy, these poets looked to nature and the wilderness as an escape and as a source of inspiration.

Drawing on the Romantics and the American Transcendentalists, like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, poets like Gary Snyder, Joy Harjo, and James Wright sought out a simpler life, where they could escape the encroachment of civilization. Their transcendental philosophy, in which humans’ connection to the land becomes a source not only of peacefulness but also of artistic inspiration and spiritual renewal, is founded on quintessentially American ideals. Like Thoreau and Emerson, these poets of the 1960s saw transcendental living and writing as a way to practice American ideals like self-reliance, resourcefulness, and individualism. Snyder actually managed to live almost self-sufficiently in the mountains of Oregon and California, growing much of his own food and chopping his own wood. This connection to an earlier, yet deeply American culture explains his interest in myth, folklore, and the theme of the journey in his poetry. Although Joy Harjo’s poetry seems quite different from Snyder’s, her search for spirituality in nature, as well as her connections to the land and American Indian culture, aligns her with the poetry of transcendentalism. These poets were, like their predecessors, reacting against what they perceived as an intrusive and morally suspect government. In looking to nature, they were enacting an anti-establishment sentiment. Part of this interest in the land also meant an interest in non-Western cultures.

Although the confessional poets did not draw their inspiration from Native American culture or the ecological concerns characteristic of the meditative poets, they did share an interest and belief in the idea of the poet as a visionary. Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath all believed in a transcendent state, often induced by mental illness (mania or depression) that sparked brilliant poetry.

Questions

  1. Comprehension: What are the features of poetry of transcendence?
  2. Comprehension: How might confessional poetry be described as transcendent?
  3. Context: Transcendental poetry features the idea of the poet as a visionary. How do Gary Snyder (“The Blue Sky”), Joy Harjo (“Eagle Poem,” “The Flood”), and Sylvia Plath (“Ariel“) represent this idea? What is the relationship between the poet and the creative process in these poems?
  4. Context: How do the heritages of Harjo and Cervantes complicate their treatment of nature? Can they be classified as meditative poets?
  5. Context: Reread Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience. How does Wright’s poetry capture the flavor of civil disobedience as defined by Thoreau?
  6. Exploration: Using the archive, look at the Hopi images and the Zen Buddhist artifacts. Why would very different traditions appeal to the same group of writers? What historical, political, or cultural events might have led to their fascination? How does this type of primitivism differ from that of the high modernists, like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot?
  7. Exploration: The poets mentioned in this Extended Context appreciated and revered Native American culture. They believed deeply in ecological preservation. They practiced traditionally American ideals like self-reliance, freedom of thought and speech, and strong individuality. Yet, many Americans considered them outsiders, or strange, misguided youth. How did these poets perceive American identity? What values did they uphold? What perceptions were they trying to change? How do their poetry and lifestyles reflect these ideas?

Archive
[4999] Anonymous, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzer (Left to Right) Standing in Front of a Ten Foot Plaster Buddha (1965), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-119239].
Beats preparing for a “psychedelic celebration” at the Village Theater in New York City. Beat writers looked to Eastern religions and traditions, as they found European American culture and religions empty of meaning. See Ginsberg’s poem “Sunflower Sutra” (“sutra” is Sanskrit for “thread” and refers to Buddhist religious texts).

[6245] Anonymous, Ginsberg at 19 in the Merchant Marine (1945), 
courtesy of Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries and the Allen Ginsberg Trust. 
Allen Ginsberg felt an allegiance to Walt Whitman. He was compelled by their shared experience as homosexuals and fascinated by their different perspectives on American culture. Ginsberg shocked America with his manifesto Howl.

[6505] Anonymous, The Howl Trial, San Francisco Municipal Court, 1957 (1957), 
courtesy of City Lights Books. 
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, arrested for publishing Ginsberg’s poem, comments on the Howl obscenity trial: “The prosecution put only two ‘expert witnesses’ on the stand–both very lame samples of academia–one from the Catholic University of San Francisco and one a private elocution teacher, a beautiful woman, who said, ‘You feel like you are going through the gutter when you have to read that stuff. I didn’t linger on it too long, I assure you.’ The University of San Francisco instructor said: ‘The literary value of the poem is negligible. . . . This poem is apparently dedicated to a long-dead movement, Dadaism, and some late followers of Dadaism. And, therefore, the opportunity is long past for any significant literary contribution of this poem.”

[6783] Edward S. Curtis, Altar Peyote with Rattle (Osage) (1930), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress [E77. C97]. 
Poets seeking transcendence–particularly Gary Snyder and James Wright– were drawn to Native American belief systems and to the use of peyote.

[7341] Arthur Rothstein, Strip Mining Operations with a Thirty-Two Cubic Yard Steam Shovel. Cherokee County, Kansas (1936), 
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF34-004274-D DLC]. 
Heavy machinery at mining site. Meditative poets found inspiration in nature and were alarmed by increasing environmental destruction in the United States.

[8314] Joy Harjo, Interview: “Native Voices and Poetry of Liberation” (2003), 
courtesy of American Passages and Annenberg Media
Writer Joy Harjo discusses the power of the spoken word.

[8608] Native Alliance for Red Power, NARP Newsletter (June/July 1969), 
courtesy of the Special Collections, Michigan State University Libraries. 
The Native Alliance for Red Power (NARP) was a Canadian organization similar to the American Indian Movement (AIM). Both were part of tribalism and the Pan-Indian movement of the 1970s. Organizations like AIM, NARP, and the Black Panthers called for changes in the treatment of minorities and were more willing to use physical confrontation than their predecessors in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s.

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American Passages: A Literary Survey

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