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American Poetry and Private Real Property


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.

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Kinereth Meyer , “Landscape and Counter-landscape in the Poetry of William Cullen Bryant,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, 48, 2 (Sept. 1993), 194211

Bonnie Costello , Planets on Tables: Poetry, Still Life, and the Turning World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008)

Walker Field , “A Reexamination into the Invention of the Balloon Frame,” Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians, 2, 4 (Oct. 1942), 329

Scott Freundschuh , and Max Egenhofer , “Human Conceptions of Space: Implications for GIS,” Transactions in GIS, 2 (1997), 361–75

Bonnie Costello , “Art and Erosion,” Contemporary Literature, 33, 2 (Summer 1992), 373–95

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Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
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