Toward a Poetics of Rapid Transit
This chapter examines the poetics of rapid transit that emerged in the early twentieth century, including the verses of William Carlos Williams. Wishful civic boosters of the early twentieth century discerned signs of financial utopia in the “symbiotic relation” between skyscrapers and urban railways. These interdependent social forms were viewed as hallmarks of twentieth-century urban modernity. Rapid-transit poems of the period feature close-up encounters mingling people of different classes, races, and genders with unprecedented frequency, unfathomable swiftness, and sometimes uncontrollable force. This chapter first considers the differences between skyscraper verses and rapid-transit verses in terms of engagement with the modern urban landscape fashion before discussing “rapid-transit verse” in greater detail. It explores American poetry's fascination with rapid transit as a central theme, focusing on poems that dealt with subjects ranging from commuting to subways. It also analyzes William Carlos Williams's rapid-transit poetry to demonstrate the impact of the New Verse movement's passionate engagement with urban-industrial space as the site of modern experience.
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