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Benjamin Franklin's parodic ingredients summarize the artistic failings of the Puritan elegy as post-Enlightenment critics have defined them. The paradox of observing a death in time by invoking the supposed timelessness of art helps explain why critics have never known quite what to do with occasional poems like elegies. Most elegists during sixteenth century took an approach to verbal mourning that drew on Elizabethan patriotism and patronage and, later, Jacobean melancholy and popular devotional traditions. The New England elegy began to separate from its English counterparts by laying greater stress on the commemoration of what William Scheick has called a collective self that enabled survivors to absorb the deceased's piety. With social and political themes pervading the full range of elegiac verse, the chief distinction in American elegy became and largely remains between poems designed for popular audiences and those written for a more traditionally literary readership.
For much of the twentieth century, critics, scholars, writers, and readers often set American literature's parameters to exclude African American literary artists. The story of contemporary African American poetics begins with Gwendolyn Brooks and her collection A Street in Bronzeville. Bob Kaufman's poem expands on Hughes's imagist inclination, but it veers sharply from the solid modernist elements of Robert Hayden's or Gwendolyn Brooks's poetry. In his musicological works, Blues People and Black Music, Amiri Baraka argues that bebop and avant-garde jazz are rooted in the African American experiential continuum, but still offer listeners and other artists routes toward surreal, experimental, modern, and revolutionary practices. Like Baraka and Kaufman before him, Ishmael Reed's early poems are drawn from American popular culture, African American cultural particulars, and various mythological systems. Baraka's poetic concept of othering the self makes improvisation a metaphor for both intellectual work and African American identity.
The Cambridge History of American Poetry offers a comprehensive exploration of the development of American poetic traditions from their beginnings until the end of the twentieth century. Bringing together the insights of fifty distinguished scholars, this literary history emphasizes the complex roles that poetry has played in American cultural and intellectual life, detailing the variety of ways in which both public and private forms of poetry have met the needs of different communities at different times. The Cambridge History of American Poetry recognizes the existence of multiple traditions and a dramatically fluid canon, providing current perspectives on both major authors and a number of representative figures whose work embodies the diversity of America's democratic traditions.
“[W]hat would happen, I began to ask, if travel were untethered, seen as a complex and pervasive spectrum of human experiences? Practices of displacement might emerge as constitutive of cultural meanings rather than as their simple transfer or extension.” James Clifford / Travel and the construction of American identity are intimately linked. This connection undergirds commonplace descriptions of America as a nation of immigrants and a restless populace on the move. It lies at the heart of the politics of Manifest Destiny, in complex relationships between the technology, commerce, and aesthetics of the car culture, and in migration narratives from those of the Hopis and Zunis to those of the Beats. American travel writing both acknowledges this connection and deploys it to perform complex ideological and cultural work. It simultaneously exposes inter- and intra-cultural contradictions and contains them. It creates American “selves” and American landscapes through affirmation, exclusion, and negation of others, and interpellates readers into these selves and landscapes through specific rhetorical and genre conventions. Thus, after Clifford in the epigraph above, American travel writing, like travel itself, is constitutive, a tool of self- and national fashioning that constructs its object even as it describes it. The Cambridge Companion to American Travel Writing brings together thirteen new essays that explore the ways in which travel writing has defined, reflected, or constructed American identity. Although the travel book has always attracted a wide readership and the talents of major authors, it has only recently won significant attention from scholars.
The right-hand column of this chronology lists important works of travel that are written by Americans or describe travel in what is now the United States with a focus on works written in English. A few works of fiction that contain significant travel material are also included. Our selections recognize that these political and geographical categories are inherently fluid and in flux. The list does not claim to be comprehensive, but indicates those works that contributors to this volume see as especially significant and influential. The left-hand column lists selected key historical events that provide an important context for works of travel.