ISSN: 20509790
First published in 2014
3 issues per volume
Volume 5 Issue 1
Cover Date: March 2018
Writing around Paterson: Critical urban poetics in Williams, Olson and Ginsberg
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Authors:  Nate Mickelson 
DOI: 10.1386/jucs.5.1.15_1

American poetry,innovative poetics,long poems,city planning,progressive planning,urban theory,urban crisis

William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson and Allen Ginsberg wrote ambitious city poems in the 1940s and 1950s. They were in close contact at the time, reviewing each other’s work in small-circulation journals and exchanging ideas in person and by letter. This article traces the circulation of influence among the three poets and interprets their poems – Paterson (Williams 1992), The Maximus Poems (Olson 1993), and Ginsberg’s ‘Shrouded Stranger’ poems, including ‘Howl’ (Ginsberg 1984; 1994; 2006) – in relation to other forms of critical urban discourse. Specifically, the article suggests that Williams, Olson and Ginsberg recognized the abstract rationality of Paterson Books I–IV as a limitation of the poem and sought to develop alternative approaches. Their responses anticipate critiques of rational-comprehensive city planning and urban renewal by Guy Debord, Herbert Gans and Jane Jacobs. Comparing Debord, Gans and Jacobs’s arguments to representations of the city in Paterson, The Maximus Poems, and Ginsberg’s ‘Shrouded Stranger’ shows the centrality of the city to innovative twentieth-century poetics and suggests that city poetry can be read as a mode of critical urban analysis.
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