American Literature in the 1960's Analysis


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Although it is inaccurate to describe coherent groups and movements in the 1960’s poetry scene in the United States, certain strains and voices did attempt to take the poem in new directions through explicitly experimental forms. The appearances of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems (1956) and Robert Lowell’s Life Studies and For the Union Dead (1959) marked watersheds in poetic form and subject. Ginsberg’s Beat vision made raw human experience the central spiritual focus of his work and celebrated the physical, sexual, hallucinogenic, and neurotic in all its seediness and glory. Similarly, Lowell turned inward, mixing loose cultural criticism with an analysis of domestic life, marking a new subject territory for American poetry that was distinctly personal. This confessional strain was also present in Anne Sexton’s To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) and All My Pretty Ones (1962) and Sylvia Plath’s Ariel (1966), which opened up the condition of the white, middle-class woman to the sharp eyes of the poet. By exploring themes such as madness, alcoholism, and suicide, these confessional poets challenged the silence surrounding American private life. Ginsberg’s Kaddish and Other Poems (1961) was also highly influential in the emergence of the San Francisco poetry scene, which attempted to merge a new emotional realism with the explicitly political, a populist move to get poetry back on the streets. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Starting from San Francisco (1961) and Her (1961) brought together anarchist and leftist strains in a blistering critique of American life. Similarly, James Scherril explored radical pacifism in Stalingrad Elegies (1964) and Violence and Glory (1969) and openly examined the crushing effects of militarized life brought about by the escalation of the Vietnam War. However, many in the San Francisco school initiated a shift in poetic and spiritual consciousness and turned to Zen Buddhism as a truly different form of perception. Gary Snyder sought to develop a new mythology for the American spirit in Myths and Texts (1960) and A Range of Poems (1967) while openly advocating liberation from the stultifying restraints of Western logical thought in The Back Country (1968) and Earth House...

(The entire section is 958 words.)