W.H. Auden famously claimed "poetry makes nothing happen." That may or may not be the case, but the idea that poetry makes nothing happen has, itself, been extremely influential, and has made a great deal happen in the world. This book examines several of the main currents in literary history as that influential idea flows through poetry and into the wider world. Since the invention of the idea, it has influenced theories of education; helped legitimize the entry of the middle class into political life; spawned ideas of symbolism that are still with us; formed a bulwark protecting literary culture from the commercial world; helped create the artistic subculture of bohemia; informed queer discourse and identity; and helped create both contemporary literary taste and the institutions that support it. Through chapters on figures from Coleridge and Tennyson to Yeats, Eliot, Auden, Gertrude Stein and John Ashbery, we see how maintaining that poetry has no use in the world has been and remains a very powerful—and useful—idea.
Robert Archambeau received his MFA in creative writing and PhD in English from Notre Dame and is a poet and critic. His books of poetry include Home and Variations (Salt, 2004), The Kafka Sutra (MadHat, 2015), and other collections and collaborations. His critical books include Laureates and Heretics (Notre Dame, 2010), The Poet Resigns (Akron, 2013), Inventions of a Barbarous Age (MadHat, 2016) and several edited collections. He teaches at Lake Forest College and has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, the Illinois Arts Council, and Swedish Academy.