The terms 'poetry' and 'realism' have a complex and often oppositional relationship in American literary histories of the postbellum period. The core narrative holds that 'realism', the major literary 'movement' of the era, developed apace in prose fiction, while poetry, stuck in a hopelessly idealist late-Romantic mode, languished and stagnated. Poetry is almost entirely absent from scholarship on American literary realism except as the emblem of realism's opposite: a desiccated genteel 'twilight of the poets.' Realist Poetics in American Culture, 1866-1900 refutes the familiar narrative of postbellum poetics as a scene of failure, and it recovers the active and variegated practices of a diverse array of realist poets across print culture. The triumph of the twilight tale in the twentieth century obscured, minimized, and flattened the many poetic discourses of the age, including but not limited to a significant body of realist poems currently missing from US literary histories. Excavating an extensive archive of realist poems, the volume offers a significant revision to the genre-exclusive story of realism and, by extension, to the very foundations of postbellum American literary history dating back to the earliest stages of the discipline.
Elizabeth Renker is Professor of English at The Ohio State University. She is also the author of The Origins of American Literature Studies: An Institutional History (Cambridge, 2007) and Strike Through the Mask: Herman Melville and the Scene of Writing (Johns Hopkins, 1996), as well as the editor of Poems: A Concise Anthology (Broadview Press, 2016). The Princeton Review's 2012 book Best 300 Professors named her one of the top 300 professors in the nation, across all universities and disciplines.