American Free Verse
Poetry by Walter Sutton
Walter Sutton’s American Free Verse, unlike the more usual general discussions of American poetry, concentrates on the origins and growth of the modern free verse movement. In the words of the author, who is Professor of the Humanities at Syracuse University, the book offers “testimony to the vitality and imaginative resourcefulness of American poetry.” The title, however, does not imply an exclusive preoccupation with form, since it also refers to the historical aspects of a still-developing tradition. Opening with a preparatory consideration of Romanticism, Sutton focuses full attention on Walt Whitman, and touches briefly on the work of Emily Dickinson and Stephen Crane. He turns next to the early years of the twentieth century, a watershed period in the arts that saw the establishment of free verse as the dominant poetic mode. Of the first generation of modernists, Sutton devotes two chapters apiece to Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, who ’’took upon themselves in a period of great disillusionment the role of epic spokesmen in the tradition of Whitman,” and gives special attention as well to E. E. Cummings and Marianne Moore. The author then considers “The Conservative Counterrevolution’’ of the New Critics and the “Middle Generation.” And finally, with “The Revolution Renewed,” he brings his discussion around to a wide-ranging appreciation of the “Third Generation”: Charles Olson’s “projective verse” and the “Beat” movement, concretism and the poetry, among others, of Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Denise Levertov, Thomas Merton, Gary Snyder, and Kenneth Rexroth.