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Word of Mouth

Gossip and American Poetry

Chad Bennett

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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...

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.

Reviews

Reviews

In a deeply researched discussion of poetic, queer, and rhetorical theory, Bennett argues that "ideas of lyric, gossip, and queerness" reveal "new and illuminating contexts" (3).

Chad Bennett's Word of Mouth: Gossip and American Poetry is so careful and decorous, it is beyond reproach. The writing is groomed, the research meticulous, the choice of subjectsGertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Frank O'Hara, James Merrillstrikingly diverse. By patiently unpacking a crowd of difficult poems, Bennett shows how twentieth-century poetries have used gossip as mode to expand the formal and rhetorical possibilities of lyric.

Chad Bennett's intuition that gossip is not inconsequential but central to poetry and that both gossip and poetry are eccentrically central to life, marks an ironic, mature, and observant mind.... His rhetoric is unaggressive, but his point is provocative. The point is that although not all gossip is queer, there is something potentially queer about gossip itself.

Word of Mouth is a substantial and important achievement; it's also a great pleasure, promising to be read and admired. Beautifully written, informed by historical poetics, and offering a powerful queer analysis of US poetics of the twentieth century, the book goes beyond the sum of its parts to present a fascinating way of thinking about the reading and writing of modern poetry.

Psst!—did you hear about Chad Bennett’s lively, incisive, and engaging new book? It beautifully reveals how poetry absorbs gossip’s playfulness, intimacy, energy, and address. Check out its supple and smart readings. And spread the word!

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Book Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. "They Will Tell Well"
2. "Ain’t You Heard?"
3. "The Dish That’s Art"
4. "The Celestial Salon"
Coda
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Chad Bennett
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Chad Bennett

Chad Bennett is an assistant professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.