A remarkable amount of award-winning contemporary American poetry incorporates nostalgia as a prominent idea discussed. This poetry appears to use nostalgia as means to a greater end. In other words, nostalgia, while a dominant theme within different works, is more a way to treat concepts such as representation and memory, more so than the work being an actual commentary on nostalgia itself. Given the poetry's predominant concept, it seems poets such as Carl Dennis, Natasha Trethewey and Ted Kooser could be representative of a literary historical moment. This moment is one which comments heavily on the past's presence within the present. While each poet's writing is heavily influenced by nostalgia, I posit the theory that these poets are speaking to a greater literary historical moment found in both the literature itself as well as current trends in literary theory. It is not that these poets are writing to a specific theory, rather, their Pulitzer-prize winning poetry is rooted in a trend of yearning for the past. As overt a connection between contemporary poetry's treatment of nostalgia and nostalgia theory itself, little, if any, literary criticism has connected these two. In his essay "Theorizing Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be," Paul Grainge contends, "Since the late 1980s, when memory became a topic of concerted critical interest, nostalgia has been taken up in critiques of reactionary conservatism, in accounts of retro phenomena, in relation to the growing memorial tendencies in Europe and America, and as central to particular theories of postmodernism" (20). Grainge continues on to describe two forms nostalgia takes: "mood" and "mode." Similarly, Svetlana Boym suggests nostalgia as either "reflective" or "restorative" (41). This type of current scholarship addressing nostalgia seems to set up a nostalgic reading of texts as more the end game of the literature—the literature is nostalgic. However, if literature then ends as only nostalgic, there seems to be a lack of nostalgic theory's breadth. Dennis, Trethewey and Kooser all address this gap through their poetry—expanding the notion of nostalgia as being more the vehicle leading one through the landscape of memory. Suggesting nostalgia as merely reflective or restorative, as Boym and Grainge have done, seems to create a sense of nostalgia as stagnant rather than as a dynamic movement within the literature, and even the act of recollection itself. The three poets addressed in my project all suggest at some level that this residue of the past can lead one to see that perhaps experience itself delights in memory. Furthermore, nostalgia's dependence upon present memory indicates not just a longing for the past, but rather the past's presence in the present. The act of remembering serves as a type of catalyst which transforms memories to manifestations in present circumstance.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Hay, Rebecca Cecilia, "Nostalgia: Movement and Stasis in Contemporary American Poetry" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 3475.
Nostalgia, American Poetry, Natasha Trethewey, Ted Kooser, Carl Dennis