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Poetry in the Museums of Modernism explores the relationships among four modernist poets and the museums that helped shape their writing. During the early twentieth century, museums were trying to reach a wider audience, using displayed objects to teach that audience about art, culture, and ecology. And writers such as W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and Gertrude Stein borrowed these strategies and techniques, creating new ways of negotiating culture, structuring words, and addressing readers.
In Poetry in the Museums of Modernism, Catherine Paul contextualizes these writers' poetry and prose in the gallery spaces, curatorial practices, displayed objects, and exhibition objectives of the museums that inspired them, exposing the ways in which museums helped develop literary modernism.
Although critics have attested to the importance of the visual arts to literary modernists and have begun to explore the relationship between literary production and social institutions, no one else has examined the particular institutions in which modernist poets found the artworks, specimens, and other artifacts that inspired their literary innovations. Investigating curatorial issues in museums of the early twentieth century, Paul focuses on relationships between writers and specific institutions, including Dublin's Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, the British Museum and Library, and New York's American Museum of Natural History. This book therefore brings to light new documents from the history of modernism and exposes previously neglected aspects of Yeats's, Pound's, Moore's, and Stein's work. By examining the ways in which these same writers are now themselves displayed in museums, Poetry in the Museums of Modernism also demands that readers reconsider the ways in which their own encounters with modernism are constructed.
Catherine Paul's book illuminates the role of early twentieth-century museums in cultural production and offers a fresh encounter with modernist poetry's aesthetic demands, political motivations, and material production.
Catherine Paul is Associate Chair of English at Clemson University.
Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted February 2003.
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