Listen to a short interview with Joan Shelley Rubin. Host: Chris Gondek. Producer: Heron & Crane. In the years between 1880 and 1950, Americans recited poetry at family gatherings, school assemblies, church services, camp outings, and civic affairs. As they did so, they invested poems - and the figure of the poet - with the beliefs, values, and emotions that they experienced in those settings. Reciting a poem together with others joined the individual to the community in a special and memorable way. In a strikingly original and rich portrait of the uses of verse in America, Joan Shelley Rubin shows how the sites and practices of reciting poetry influenced readers' lives and helped them to find meaning in a poet's words. Emphasizing the cultural circumstances that influenced the production and reception of poets and poetry in this country, Rubin recovers the experiences of ordinary people reading poems in public places.
We see the recent immigrant seeking acceptance, the schoolchild eager to be integrated into the class, the mourner sharing grief at a funeral, the grandparent trying to bridge the generation gap - all instances of readers remaking texts to meet social and personal needs. Preserving the moral, romantic, and sentimental legacies of the nineteenth century, the act of reading poems offered cultural continuity, spiritual comfort, and pleasure. "Songs of Ourselves" is a unique history of literary texts as lived experience. By blurring the boundaries between 'high' and 'popular' poetry as well as between modern and traditional, it creates a fuller, more democratic way of studying our poetic language and ourselves.
Joan Shelley Rubin is Professor of History at the University of Rochester.
Introduction Part I. The Poet in American Culture *1. Seer and Sage *2. Amateur and Professional *3. Absence and Presence *4. Sophisticate and Innocent *5. Celebrity and Cipher *6. Alien and Intimate Part II. Poetry in Place and Practice *7. Listen, My Children: Modes of Poetry Reading in American Schools *8. I Am an American: Poetry and Civic Ideals *9. Grow Old Along with Me: Poetry and Emotions among Family and Friends *10. God's in His Heaven: Religious Uses of Verse *11. Lovely as a Tree: Reading and Seeing Out-of-Doors * Coda: "Favorite Poems" and Contemporary Readers * Notes * Index