American poets’ theater emerged in the postwar period alongside the rich, performance-oriented poetry and theater scenes that proliferated on the makeshift stages of urban coffee houses, shared apartments, and underground theaters. Yet until now its significance has been largely overlooked by critics. Acts of Poetry shines a spotlight on poets’ theater by examining key groups, practitioners, influencers, and inheritors, such as the Poets’ Theatre, the Living Theater, Gertrude Stein, Bunny Lang, Frank O’Hara, Amiri Baraka, Carla Harryman, and Suzan-Lori Parks. Heidi R. Bean demonstrates the importance of poets’ theater in the development of 20th-century theater and performance poetry, and especially evolving notions of the audience’s role in performance, and in narratives of the relationship between performance and everyday life. Drawing on an extensive archive of scripts, production materials, personal correspondence, theater records, interviews, manifestoes, editorials, and reviews, the book captures critical assessments and behind-the-scenes discussions that enrich our understanding of the intertwined histories of American theater and American poetry in the twentieth century.
“Explores a theatrical genre that has significant historical and cultural resonance but that has been largely underexamined. The book’s originality, depth of coverage, and readability are impressive.”
—Deborah R. Geis, DePauw University
“As the author argues, poets’ theater has been neglected in part because it falls between disciplinary divides, and often eclipsed because, in most cases, the writers are much better known as poets than as playwrights. Carefully researched and well written, Acts of Poetry sheds light on a type of theater that mostly lies in the shadows.”
—Tyler Hoffman, Rutgers University, Camden