Whitman, Melville, Crane, and the Labors of American Poetry: Against Vocation

ISBN : 9780198836254

Peter Riley
224 ページ
138 x 216 mm

In Whitman, Melville, Crane, and the Labors of American Poetry, Peter Riley confronts our enduring and problematic investment in poetic vocation-a myth, he argues, that continues to inform how all our multifarious labors are understood, valued, and exploited. The book seeks to challenge a dominant cultural logic that frames contingent, non-vocational labor as a necessary sacrifice that frustrates the righteous progress towards realizing that seemingly purest of callings: Poet. Incorporating the often overlooked or excluded workaday ephemera of three canonical US Romantic poets-Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Hart Crane-this volume offers new archival insights that call for a re-examination of celebrated literary careers and disputes their status as renowned or tragic icons of creative vocation. The poetry of Whitman the real estate dealer, Melville the customs inspector, and Crane the copywriter, Riley contends, does not constitute the formal inscription of an antagonistic or discreet poetic labor struggling against quotidian work towards the fulfilment of exceptional individual callings. Instead, the distracted forms of their poetry are always already intermingled with a variety of apparently lesser labors. Ousting poetic production from its default sanctuary of privileged exemption or transcendent repose, the volume refigures the work of the poet as a living sensuous activity that transgresses labor's various divisions and hierarchies. It consequently recasts the poet as a figure who actually unfastens the 'right of passage' vocational logic that does so much to secure and reproduce the current neoliberal paradigm.


Introduction: Whitman's Wallpaper and Poetry's Archives of Distraction
Part I: Walt Whitman, Brooklyn Property Speculator
1 Leaves of Grass and Real Estate
2 Whitman and the Transformations of Labor
Part II: Herman Melville, Deputy Customs Inspector
3 Moby-Dick and the Shadows of The Poet
4 Billy Budd and Melville's Retirement
Part III: Hart Crane, Junior Copywriter
5 Classical Modernism and Impersonal Poetic Labor
6 Making Ends Meet: Hart Crane's Job
Coda: Why I am not talking about Frank O'Hara


After completing his AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2012, Peter Riley was appointed Early Career Fellow in American Literature at the University of Oxford (2012-2014), and then Lecturer in American Literature at the University of Exeter (2014-Present). He has also held Fellowships at the Rothermere American Institute and Linacre College, Oxford. He is a co-founder of BrANCA (British Association of Nineteenth-Century Americanists), and co-organised the inaugural BrANCA symposium 'Aesthetics/Politics' (2013), as well as the third biennial symposium 'The Not Yet of the Nineteenth-Century U.S' (2017). He also organised the International Walt Whitman Week at Exeter in 2016.