Since the start of the twentieth century, poets have been irresistibly drawn to the image of the poem as a kind of data-handling, a way of mediating between the divergent scales of aesthetics and infrastructure, language and technology. Conrad Steel shows how the history of poetry—with its particular formal affordances, and the particular hopes and fears we invest it with—has always been bound up with our changing logistics of macroscale representation. 

This history takes us back to the years before the First World War in Paris, where the poet Guillaume Apollinaire claimed to have invented a new mode of poetry large enough to take on the challenges of the coming twentieth century. The Poetics of Scale follows follows Apollinaire’s ideas across the Atlantic and examines how and why his work became such a vital source of inspiration for American poets through the era of intensive American economic expansion and up to the present day. Threading together Apollinaire’s work in the 1910s with three of his American successors—Louis Zukofsky in the 1930s, Allen Ginsberg in the 1950s, and Alice Notley from the 1970s onward—it shows how poetry as a cultural technique became the crucial test case for the scale of our collective imagination. 


“Steel makes a compelling case for Guillaume Apollinaire’s far-reaching impact on a century’s worth of U.S. poetry. This highly original and historically rigorous book traces the migration of Apollinaire’s influence stateside. Persuasively argued and elegantly written, The Poetics of Scale offers an invaluable contribution to the study of American poetry and poetics.”—Stephen Voyce, author, Poetic Community: Avant-Garde Activism and Cold War Culture


“A sophisticated, colorful exploration of the reception of Apollinaire’s poetry in the United States. Steel tracks the complex shifts and perplexities involved in the attraction to Apollinaire’s intimate, fluent modernism with its fusion of charismatic I-voice and choral voicing, its paratactic form, and socially conscious, affect-inflected acoustics of radical ambience.”—Adam Piette, University of Sheffield

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Publication Date
260 pages
Trim size
6 x 9 inches