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November 19, 2012

Kamran Javadizadeh

My teaching and research focus on modern American poetry, though my interests often lead me out from that center—both horizontally (into twentieth-century American literature and culture) and vertically (into the long history of poetry and poetics). My current book project, Bedlam & Parnassus: The Institutional Life of Modern American Poetry, begins by observing the historical coincidence that, from where they sat in 1950, both Ezra Pound and Elizabeth Bishop could observe the dome of the United States Capitol. What makes that coincidence fascinating is the stark difference in their circumstances. Bishop was serving a one-year term as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the position we now call Poet Laureate); the view from her corner office was meant to signal her proximity to power. Pound, on the other hand, was an inmate in St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He would be confined there for thirteen years in order to avoid being prosecuted on treason charges for his wartime radio broadcasts, and he could just barely make out the dome of the Capitol, three miles away, through the hemlocks outside the window in his cell. What would it mean to think of these two poets—together—as a composite figure for the American poet at mid-century? I begin with that question—and wind up answering others, too, along the way: What did Robert Lowell see when he looked in the mirror? How did Weldon Kees disappear? And why does Sylvia Plath’s voice sound so odd?

In my next project, I plan to think about the surprising resonance between the lyric poem and epistolary writing over a period which spans the distance, roughly, between the introduction of airmail (and modernism’s global imagination) at the beginning of the twentieth-century, and of email, Facebook, and Twitter (and our culture’s anxiety about the loss of solitude) a century later.

My work has appeared so far in The Yale Review and Arizona Quarterly.

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