Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry

Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry

by Andrew Epstein


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Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry by Andrew Epstein

Although it has long been commonplace to imagine the archetypal American poet singing a solitary "Song of Myself," much of the most enduring American poetry has actually been preoccupied with the drama of friendship. In this lucid and absorbing study, Andrew Epstein argues that an obsession with both the pleasures and problems of friendship erupts in the "New American Poetry" that emerges after the Second World War. By focusing on some of the most significant postmodernist American poets—the "New York School" poets John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and their close contemporary Amiri Baraka—Beautiful Enemies reveals a fundamental paradox at the heart of postwar American poetry and culture: the avant-garde's commitment to individualism and nonconformity runs directly counter to its own valorization of community and collaboration. In fact, Epstein demonstrates that the clash between friendship and nonconformity complicates the legendary alliances forged by postwar poets, becomes a predominant theme in the poetry they created, and leaves contemporary writers with a complicated legacy to negotiate. Rather than simply celebrating friendship and poetic community as nurturing and inspiring, these poets represent friendship as a kind of exhilarating, maddening contradiction, a site of attraction and repulsion, affinity and rivalry.

Challenging both the reductive critiques of American individualism and the idealized, heavily biographical celebrations of literary camaraderie one finds in much critical discussion, this book provides a new interpretation of the peculiar dynamics of American avant-garde poetic communities and the role of the individual within them. By situating his extensive and revealing readings of these highly influential poets against the backdrop of Cold War cultural politics and within the context of American pragmatist thought, Epstein uncovers the collision between radical self-reliance and the siren call of the interpersonal at the core of postwar American poetry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780195388985
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date: 01/22/2009
Pages: 376
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Andrew Epstein is Associate Professor of English at Florida State University.

Table of Contents

1. Situation the Avant-Garde in Postwar America
Community, Individualism, and Cold War Culture
2. Emerson, Pragmatism, and the "New American Poetry"
3. "My Force Is in Mobility"
Selfhood and Friendship in Frank O'Hara's Poetry
4. Growing Up with Our Brothers All Around
John Ashbery and the Interpersonal
5. Amiri Baraka and the Poetics of Turning Away
6. "Against the Speech of Friends"
Baraka's White Friend Blues
7. "A Rainy Wool Frankie and Johnny"
O'Hara, Ashbery, and the Paradoxes of Friendship
Works Cited

What People are Saying About This

In Beautiful Enemies, Andrew Epstein offers exemplary Emersonian readings of the intricate web connecting individual talent and collective investment in the poetry and poetics of John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and Amiri Baraka. Averting the Cold War myth of the individual voice in the wilderness of conformity, Epstein gives us voices in conversation and conflict, suggesting that resistance to agreement is at the heart of a pragmatist understanding of literary community.—Charles Bernstein, Donald T. Regan Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

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