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About the Book

Beyond the Book

448 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 illus., notes, index

ISBN  978-1-4696-1466-3
Published: March 2014

Counter-revolution of the Word

The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-1960

By Alan Filreis

Awards & Distinctions

2008 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

During the Cold War an unlikely coalition of poets, editors, and politicians converged in an attempt to discredit--if not destroy--the American modernist avant-garde. Ideologically diverse yet willing to bespeak their hatred of modern poetry through the rhetoric of anticommunism, these "anticommunist antimodernists," as Alan Filreis dubs them, joined associations such as the League for Sanity in Poetry to decry the modernist "conspiracy" against form and language. In Counter-revolution of the Word Filreis narrates the story of this movement and assesses its effect on American poetry and poetics.

Although the antimodernists expressed their disapproval through ideological language, their hatred of experimental poetry was ultimately not political but aesthetic, Filreis argues. By analyzing correspondence, decoding pseudonyms, drawing new connections through the archives, and conducting interviews, Filreis shows that an informal network of antimodernists was effective in suppressing or distorting the postwar careers of many poets whose work had appeared regularly in the 1930s. Insofar as modernism had consorted with radicalism in the Red Decade, antimodernists in the 1950s worked to sever those connections, fantasized a formal and unpolitical pre-Depression High Modern moment, and assiduously sought to de-radicalize the remnant avant-garde. Filreis's analysis provides new insight into why experimental poetry has aroused such fear and alarm among American conservatives.

About the Author

Alan Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, faculty director of the Kelly Writers House, and director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. He is author of three other books, including Modernism from Right to Left: Wallace Stevens, the Thirties, and Literary Radicalism.


"Reveal[s] a deep relationship between poetry and politics rooted in the postwar period . . . [and] speaks to political histories of the roles and forms of contemporary American poetry."
--Against the Current

"The most in-depth look we have into the role that modern poetry played in the anticommunist culture wars of the 1950s."

"[An] impressive volume. . . . Highly Recommended."

"Explores in great depth the antimodernist literary movement of the mid 20th century."

"A penetrating historical and sociological study comparable to now-classic books. . . . Filreis provides a vivid lineage for a literary culture that promotes anti-intellectualism in the pursuit of 'core values.'"
--Boston Review

“One of the most provocative analyses of mid-century American poetry this year. . . . A highly readable and attractive volume. . . . An excellent resource both for those who differ from and those who agree with its ideological premise.”
--Year’s Work in English Studies

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