Out with the Crowd: Modern American Poets Speaking to Mass Culture

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This article focuses on the interactions of modern American poetry with mass culture. Mass culture is considered in two senses: first as collective spectacle or performance experienced in spaces of commodified amusement, then as semiotic and textual phenomena, advertisements above all, that interpellate modern subjects for the ideological project of corporate capitalism. It surveys work by a variety of poets in order to show that this engagement with mass culture was no tangent limited to the work of a few oddballs or specialists, but was a pervasive dimension of American poetry during these decades. The entire careers of several significant poets-not only Williams and Fearing but Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Langston Hughes, and Muriel Rukeyser-can be framed as attempts to articulate a productive relationship with the forms and meanings of modern mass culture. The same could be said for significant parts of other careers, including those of Eliot, Pound, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Archibald MacLeish, whose turns toward and away from radio at particular historical and personal junctures reveal the inescapable role mass culture played in their poetics. Still others, particularly Lindsay, Sandburg, Millay, and Robert Frost, created iconic public personae that challenged the boundaries between literary art and mass culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry
EditorsCary Nelson
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199940950
ISBN (Print)9780195398779, 9780190204150
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • American poetry
  • Collective spectacle
  • Corporate capitalism
  • Performance
  • Semiotic phenomena
  • Textual phenomena

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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