Poems of the American Empire
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“Poems of the American Empire makes a substantially new claim about the relationship between lyric and epic as constitutive parts of a hybrid poetic form developed by Pound and Williams and revised significantly by a handful of contemporary poets. It is a book worth reading and will certainly make its mark on the field of twentieth-century American poetry.”—Paul Stasi, author, Modernism, Imperialism, and the Historical Sense
“Lukács famously leaves no room for lyric in his history of signal literary forms; Phillis begs to differ. In this superb and subtle study, Poems of the American Empire offers and enters into the poetry of America’s long twentieth century, arguing that ‘we need a lyric theory that can capture this era’s new style of time.’ But the book is after something more, trying to grasp how lyric, taking its force and fire from its tension with the persistence of epic, can open onto something like revolutionary time that can leave this era behind. Phillis’s work is ambitious, variegated, and revelatory; lyrical in its insights and epic in its vision.”—Joshua Clover, University of California, Davis
Poems of the American Empire argues that careful attention to a particular strain of twentieth-century lyric poetry yields a counter-history of American global power. The period that Phillis covers—from Ezra Pound’s A Draft of XXX Cantos in 1930 to Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire in 2012—roughly matches what some consider the ascent and decline of the American empire. The diverse poems that appear in this book are united by their use of epic forms in the lyric poem, a combination that violates a fundamental framework of both genres’ relationship to time.
This book makes a groundbreaking intervention by insisting that lyric time is key to understanding the genre. These poems demonstrate the lyric form’s ability to represent the totality of history, making American imperial power visible in its fullness. Neither strictly an empty celebration of American exceptionalism nor a catalog of atrocities, Poems of the American Empire allows us to see both.