Modernizing nature: Modernist poetry, gender, and national identity
Konkol, Margaret Elizabeth
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"Modernizing Nature: Modernist Poetry, Gender, and National Identity" combines modernist studies with ecocriticism in order to challenge two major narratives about modernism—its supposed anti-nature topos and its retreat from the public sphere. Modernism has been characterized as rejecting Victorian discursiveness in favor of remote aesthetic worlds. By this assessment it has appeared to be interested primarily in experimenting with new forms and meditating on technological and industrial transformations to urban experience. Instead, I argue that modernists also looked toward nature as a site of innovation for both poetic form and social practice. American poets such as H.D., Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Amy Lowell joined popular and light verse poets of the little magazines of the 1910s and 1920s in strategically redefining nature. This civic modernism, as I call it, drew on the politically charged rhetoric of Darwinian-influenced debates about gender, eugenics, immigration, sexology, and Progressive era campaigns for municipal gardens and National Parks. In each chapter, my readings identify how a distinctly modernist environmental imagination engenders innovation in poetic form and recalibrates political discourses about citizenship, fulfillment, and creative agency in "natural" gendered identities. I demonstrate that environment has played an integral, yet critically ignored role, in experimental modernists' vision of modernity as a plural, chaotic space of human and nonhuman encounter.