The Long Line – Identities in American Poetry from Whitman to Sonic Youth


STX Engelsk A

In the preface to Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, inventor of free verse poetry, claims that “The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.”

This module traces the poetic “absorption” with American identities from Whitman’s post-trancendentalist sensibility through Hart Crane’s celebratory spin on modern urban culture and Allen Ginsberg’s dispossessed Howl from underground to the pop art clichés who populate Sonic Youth’s postmodern wasteland on NYC Ghosts and Flowers.

With Hart Crane as a notable exception, all the chosen writers employ “the long line” and “free verse” invented by Whitman. As such this module investigates not only the shifting attitudes towards American identity, but also the endurance of poetic form across more than a century in American letters.

Core Texts

Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” in Leaves of Grass (Poem, 1881)
Hart Crane, The Bridge (Poem, 1930)
Allen Ginsberg, Howl (Poem, 1955)
Sonic Youth, “NYC Ghosts and Flowers” from the album NYC Ghosts and Flowers (Song lyric, 2000)

Secondary Materials
Selctions of American art from the period.

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