Journal of American Studies

Research Article

American Poetry and Private Real Property

ERIC RAWSON

Abstract

This article examines the ways in which American poetic practice and thematics map a conception of private real property as it has developed uniquely on the North American continent. I explore how the Land Ordinance of 1790, the Preemption Act, the Homestead Act, and other land-use policies shaped a conception of the developing landscape as divisible into a vast agglomeration of private enterprises mediated primarily by the transfer of title deeds. The impact of private real property beliefs and practices, I argue, has shaped both the practice and the reception of American poetry (and other cultural products) for at least the last 150 years. I incorporate the insights of cultural geography – particularly the work of John B. Jackson, Carl Sauer, and Scott Freundschuh – to understand how the last century's building practices and the reorganization of the landscape, particularly in western metropolitan areas, find imaginative expression in poetry. Although mine is not a law-in-literature approach, I contend that modern/postmodern poetry operates in a way that depends on the very exchange values of the late capitalist property system it often critiques.

(Online publication December 05 2012)

Writing Program, University of Southern California. Email: erawson@usc.edu.

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