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Schoolroom Poets
Childhood, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry, 1865-1917

Angela Sorby

Becoming Modern: New Nineteenth-Century Studies

New Hampshire
2005 • 282 pp. 6 x 9"
Literary Criticism / American History / Cultural Studies / American Studies

$27.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-458-2

“This well researched and clearly written book is valuable not only for those interested in American literary history and poetry's role in shaping a nation's character but also for anyone raising or teaching children.” Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin

A fresh and provocative approach to the popular "schoolroom poets" and the reading public who learned them by heart.

As recently as the 1960s, children across America continued to recite in schoolrooms or on auditorium stages poems of strong emotional resonance such as “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “Little Orphan Annie,” and “The Song of Hiawatha.” Many still remember poems with soft rhythmic cadences such as “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” as bedtime verse read to them by their parents.

According to Angela Sorby, these and hundreds of other child-oriented poems, written less for individual introspection than for public performance, became central components of American culture in the period between the Civil War and World War I. She identifies a “schoolroom canon” that some older Americans will still recognize, composed of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Eugene Field, James Whitcomb Riley, and others whose work was read, memorized, and repeated in pedagogical institutions nationwide. These poems, transmitted through schools, museums, lyceums, and theaters, as well as by newspapers and magazines, accrued cultural power through repetition; as they circulated, they functioned as mnemonic devices that established affective bonds between individuals, institutions, and the nation. Sorby’s final chapter, on the child-voice poems of Emily Dickinson, argues that her reception history in the 1890s should be linked to the discourse of infantilization and pedagogy that dominated American popular poetry of the period and, to a great extent, continues to do so today.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“Not resigning her scope to book publication alone, Sorby maps out poetry's dissemination in multiple cultural forms, from performances to popular magazines to classroom lessons, thereby illustrating how poetry was in fact "wove[n]" into the fabric of Americans' "daily lives." With stunning clarity she documents post-Civil War America's ever-changing perceptions of children and childhood, charting how both were integral to Americans' identifications and negotiations of self, race, community, and nation.”
Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association

“Angela Sorby’s Schoolroom Poets is an extraordinarily intelligent, even brilliant reading of nineteenth-century American popular poetry and of the culture that gave it birth.”Modern Philology

Schoolroom Poets is a beautifully reseached, provocative guide to an aspect of American literary history that lies before us, as well as behind us.”—The New England Quarterly Review

“Sorby’s book contributes to previous studies of nineteenth-century postbellum American cultural change through its analysis of the widespread effects of a culture of memorization and recitation but even more importantly by showing the centrality of poetry to discussions of American cultural change. To my knowledge, no work has brought cultural use and conception of poetry to the fore in the discussions of social discourse on childhood, the cultural shift from sentimentality to pedagogy, or on constructions of American national identity. This book will revolutionize an understanding of the place of poetry in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American culture.” —Cristanne Miller, Associate Professor of English, Pomona College


Winner of the Children's Literature Association Honor Book (2007)

ANGELA SORBY is Assistant Professor of English at Marquette University. She has published numerous articles on the schoolroom poets, and on nineteenth-century poetry and mass culture. She has also published her own poems in Distance Learning (1998).

Mon, 18 Jun 2018 11:53:03 -0500