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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
- Overview Questions
- Video
- Author
- Context
- Creative Response
- PBL Projects

Activities: Overview Questions

Instructor Overview
A brief description of the literary movement within its historical context.
• 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?

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