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Schoolroom Poets: Childhood, Performance, and the Place of American Poetry, 1865-1917

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Winner of the Children's Literature Association Honor Book (2007)

As recently as the 1960s, children across America continued to recite in schoolrooms or on auditorium stages poems of strong emotional resonance such as "Paul Revere's Ride," "Little Orphan Annie," and "The Song of Hiawatha." Many still remember poems with soft rhythmic cadences such as "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" as bedtime verse read to them by their parents.

According to Angela Sorby, these and hundreds of other child-oriented poems, written less for individual introspection than for public performance, became central components of American culture in the period between the Civil War and World War I. She identifies a "schoolroom canon" that some older Americans will still recognize, composed of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Eugene Field, James Whitcomb Riley, and others whose work was read, memorized, and repeated in pedagogical institutions nationwide. These poems, transmitted through schools, museums, lyceums, and theaters, as well as by newspapers and magazines, accrued cultural power through repetition; as they circulated, they functioned as mnemonic devices that established affective bonds between individuals, institutions, and the nation. Sorby's final chapter, on the child-voice poems of Emily Dickinson, argues that her reception history in the 1890s should be linked to the discourse of infantilization and pedagogy that dominated American popular poetry of the period and, to a great extent, continues to do so today.

233 pages, Paperback

First published February 24, 2005

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About the author

Angela Sorby

9 books1 follower
My area of specialization is American poetry: reading it, interpreting it, and writing it. I am especially interested in how poetry engages with readers beyond the academy. Current projects include “Chapter and Verse,” for the Cambridge History of Children’s Literature; a study of Viking artifacts in nineteenth-century poetry for a volume titled From Iceland to the Americas; and a new edited collection (with Sandra Lee Kleppe) on poetry and sustainability in higher education.

Past books include Distance Learning (New Issues/Western Michigan UP, 1998); Schoolroom Poets: Poetry, Pedagogy, and Daily Life in America (UPNE 2005, a Children’s Literature Association Honor Book); Over the River and Through the Wood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Poetry, co-edited with Karen Kilcup (Johns Hopkins UP 2013, a Choice Outstanding Academic Book); Bird Skin Coat: Poems (U of Wisconsin P 2009, winner of the Brittingham Prize and the Midwest Book Award), The Sleeve Waves: Poems (U of Wisconsin P 2014, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize); and a collection co-edited with Sandra Kleppe, Poetry and Pedagogy Across the Lifespan (Palgrave 2018).

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Profile Image for Anna Štádlerová.
29 reviews2 followers
October 17, 2018
I've only read one essay from this book (on John Greenleaf Whittier's Snow-Bound), but wow, that was good. Made me read the poem in an entirely different way. I'd like to get back to that book and read the other essays as well.
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