Mastery’s End
Travel and Postwar American Poetry

Jeffrey Gray

A new poetics of travel literature


"Jeffrey Gray's Mastery's End reads as a complex and intelligent unpacking of the trope of travel. It's a metaphor that in his hands allows us to better understand not only each of the four main poets discussed but—in the long run—ourselves as well. This study is a significant and vital contribution to our understanding of contemporary American and Caribbean poetry."
—Paul Mariani, author of Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius

"This is a great book—and in two distinct ways. It is the most capacious guide to recent and contemporary American poetry now available. And it provides a radically new and productive approach to considering the entwined relations between travel and literature. If scholars weren't interested in those topics before, they will be now."
—Steven Gould Axelrod, editor of The New Anthology of American Poetry

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Focusing on lyric poetry, Mastery's End looks at important, yet neglected, issues of subjectivity in post-World War II travel literature. Jeffrey Gray departs from related studies in two regards: nearly all recent scholarly books on the literature of travel have dealt with pre-twentieth-century periods, and all are concerned with narrative genres. Gray questions whether the postcolonial theoretical model of travel as mastery, hegemony, and exploitation still applies. In its place he suggests a model of vulnerability, incoherence, and disorientation to reflect the modern destabilizing nature of travel, a process that began with the unprecedented movement of people during and after World War II and has not abated since.

What the contemporary discourse concerning displacement, border crossing, and identity needs, says Gray, is a study of that literary genre with the least investment in closure and the least fidelity to ethnic and national continuities. His concern is not only with the psychological challenges to identity but also with travel as a mode of understanding and composition. Following a summary of American critical perspectives on travel from Emerson to the present, Gray discusses how travel, by nature, defamiliarizes and induces heightened awareness. Such phenomena, Gray says, correspond to the tenets of modern poetics: traversing territories, immersing the self in new object worlds, reconstituting the known as unknown. He then devotes a chapter each to four of the past half-century's most celebrated English-speaking, western poets: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Ashbery, and Derek Walcott. Finally, two multi-poet chapters examine the travel poetry of Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Robert Creeley, Lyn Hejinian, Nathaniel Mackey and others.

Page count: 304 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $46.95

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Jeffrey Gray is an associate professor of English at Seton Hall University.