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Word of Mouth

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Word of Mouth

Gossip and American Poetry

The first study of modern and contemporary poetry’s vibrant exchange with gossip.

Can the art of gossip help us to better understand modern and contemporary poetry? Gossip’s ostensible frivolity may seem at odds with common conceptions of poetry as serious, solitary expression. But in Word of Mouth, Chad Bennett explores the dynamic relationship between gossip and American poetry, uncovering the unexpected ways that the history of the modern lyric intertwines with histories of sexuality in the twentieth century.

Through nuanced readings of Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Frank O’Hara, and James Merrill—poets who famously absorbed and adapted the loose talk that swirled about them and their work—Bennett demonstrates how gossip became a vehicle for alternative modes of poetic practice. By attending to gossip’s key role in modern and contemporary poetry, he recognizes the unpredictable ways that conventional understandings of the modern lyric poem have been shaped by, and afforded a uniquely suitable space for, the expression of queer sensibilities.

Evincing an ear for good gossip, Bennett presents new and illuminating queer contexts for the influential poetry of these four culturally diverse poets. Word of Mouth establishes poetry as a neglected archive for our thinking about gossip and contributes a crucial queer perspective to current lyric studies and its renewed scholarly debate over the status and uses of the lyric genre.