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Schoolroom Poets: Childhood, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry, 1865-1917

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As recently as the 1960s, children across America continued to recite in schoolrooms or on auditorium stages poems of strong emotional resonance such as “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “Little Orphan Annie,” and “The Song of Hiawatha.” Many still remember poems with soft rhythmic cadences such as “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” as bedtime verse read to them by their parents.

According to Angela Sorby, these and hundreds of other child-oriented poems, written less for individual introspection ...

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Overview

As recently as the 1960s, children across America continued to recite in schoolrooms or on auditorium stages poems of strong emotional resonance such as “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “Little Orphan Annie,” and “The Song of Hiawatha.” Many still remember poems with soft rhythmic cadences such as “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” as bedtime verse read to them by their parents.

According to Angela Sorby, these and hundreds of other child-oriented poems, written less for individual introspection than for public performance, became central components of American culture in the period between the Civil War and World War I. She identifies a “schoolroom canon” that some older Americans will still recognize, composed of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Eugene Field, James Whitcomb Riley, and others whose work was read, memorized, and repeated in pedagogical institutions nationwide. These poems, transmitted through schools, museums, lyceums, and theaters, as well as by newspapers and magazines, accrued cultural power through repetition; as they circulated, they functioned as mnemonic devices that established affective bonds between individuals, institutions, and the nation. Sorby’s final chapter, on the child-voice poems of Emily Dickinson, argues that her reception history in the 1890s should be linked to the discourse of infantilization and pedagogy that dominated American popular poetry of the period and, to a great extent, continues to do so today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This well researched and clearly written book is valuable not only for those interested in American literary history and poetry's role in shaping a nation's character but also for anyone raising or teaching children.” —Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin

"Schoolroom Poets is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in nineteenth-century poetry, children's literature, middle-class American culture, and the history of American pedagogy. It has taken twenty years for Americanists to re-evaluate popular poetry with the same rigor that they have popular fiction; Sorby does here, taking popularity not as a sign of a poet's incompetence but as a testament to his or her importance. In doing so,Schoolroom Poets also demonstrates the rich poetric culture of the period and the multiple media in which poetry appeared. Not resigning her scope to book publication alone, Sorby maps out poetry's dissemination in multiple cultural forms, from performances to popular magazines to classroom lessons, thereby illustrating how poetry was in fact "wove[n]" into the fabric of Americans' "daily lives." With stunning clarity she documents post-Civil War America's ever-changing perceptions of children and childhood, charting how both were integral to Americans' identifications and negotionations of self, race, community, and nation.” —Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association

"Angela Sorby's Schoolroom Poets is an extraordinarily intelligent, even brilliant reading of nineteenth-century American popular poetry and of the culture that gave it birth."—Modern Philology

"Schoolroom Poets is a beautifully reseached, provocative guide to an aspect of American literary history that lies before us, as well as behind us.” —The New England Quarterly Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781584654582
  • Publisher: University of New Hampshire Press
  • Publication date: 2/24/2005
  • Series: Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

ANGELA SORBY is Assistant Professor of English at Marquette University. She has published numerous articles on the schoolroom poets, and on nineteenth-century poetry and mass culture. She has also published her own poems in Distance Learning (1998).

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Table of Contents

Learning By Heart
Reading America: Longfellow in the Schools
Learning to Be White: John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snow-Bound
A Visit from St. Nicholas: Pedagogy, Power, and Print Culture
Performing Class: James Whitcomb Riley Onstage
“Seein’ Things at Night”: Eugene Field and the Infantilization of American Culture
Emily Dickinson and the Form of Childhood

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