City Poems And Urban Crisis, 1945 ' Present

Jeffrey Nathan Mickelson, City University of New York, Graduate Center

Abstract

City Poems proposes that twentieth-century American city poets hold important concerns, commitments, and strategies in common with urban theorists and city planners. The study situates canonical and lesser-read city poetry, including work by William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, George Oppen, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Wanda Coleman, among others, in relation to discourses of urban crisis. Following Raymond Williams, Henri Lefebvre, and James Scully, it approaches city poetry as a form of social action that holds particular value for practitioners of progressive city planning. Because poetic representations of cities influence public perceptions, City Poems suggests, they have the potential to shape private and government actions. The relationship between poetry and public life has become an increasingly urgent topic for American poets, in particular since the emergence of neoliberalism as the dominant political order in the 1980s. Applying insights from critical urban theory and reader-response criticism, City Poems suggests that poets and planners have shifted their responses to urban crisis in the wake of neoliberalism's emergence from articulating comprehensive theories of the city to observing and responding to everyday practices in communities. Following through on this insight, the study analyzes the efforts of city poets and progressive planners to expand the range of knowledge that counts in defining the social and physical dimensions of cities and argues that experiential knowledge and affective engagement have proven to be crucial components in their visions of a more just and equitable urban future. The study's main contributions are the commonalities it identifies in the practices of city poets, urban theorists, and city planners and the methodology it demonstrates of reading city poetry as a mode of insurgent urban practice.