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The First BookTwentieth-Century Poetic Careers in America$
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Jesse Zuba

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780691164472

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691164472.001.0001

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“Poets of the First Book, Writers of Promise”

“Poets of the First Book, Writers of Promise”

Beginning in the Era of the First-Book Prize

(p.68) 2 “Poets of the First Book, Writers of Promise”
The First Book

Jesse Zuba

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the professionalization of the poetic vocation in the wake of the expansion of the American system of higher education during the post-1945 era. The teaching of poetry writing in colleges and universities redefined poetry as something that could, at least in some sense, be taught, and it rendered the traditional image of the poet as an “untutored genius” highly problematic. First-book prizes for poetry proliferated in this new literary environment largely because they served to reinforce its central values. For the institutions to which they were in many cases linked, such prizes functioned as an assertion of cultural authority. They strengthened poetry's status as a profession by presenting its hierarchy as a meritocracy, open, like other professions, to anyone with talent and drive, and also affirmed the authority of contest judges.

Keywords:   professionalization, American higher education, poetry writing, first-book prizes, cultural authority

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