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Guys Like Us

Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics

Guys Like Us considers how writers of the 1950s and ’60s struggled to craft literature that countered the politics of consensus and anticommunist hysteria in America, and how notions of masculinity figured in their effort. Michael Davidson examines a wide range of postwar literature, from the fiction of Jack Kerouac to the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank O’Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath. He also explores the connection between masculinity and sexuality in films such as Chinatown and The Lady from Shanghai, as well as television shows, plays, and magazines from the period. What results is a virtuoso work that looks at American poetic and artistic innovation through the revealing lenses of gender and history.

296 pages | 2 photographs | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Gender and Sexuality

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature


"Evoking Baudelaire’s flaneur in his analysis of Whitman and O’Hara, Davidson becomes something of a flaneur himself, strolling through the bustling, vibrant excesses of twentieth-century cultural production, and sampling with astonishing grace, facility, and acumen the wealth of significations around that central sign, masculinity, in a way that . . . is always richly challenging and frequently illuminating. His degree of cultural literacy is astonishing. . . . A thought-provoking work that sreaks to a variety of disciplines: American history, literary criticism, and gender studies."

Fiona Paton | American Quarterly

"[Guys Like Us] advance[s] the historical study of poetics and poetry significantly."

Eric Schocket | American Literature

“[Guys Like Us] should be required reading for anyone interested in cold war culture, gender studies, or poetry and poetics."

Deborah Nelson | Contemporary Literature

Guys Like Us seeks to re-assess the historiography of the policing of gender roles and its relation to foreign state affairs during the Cold War era in the United States. . . . Davidson’s text is innovative in that it analyses the role of postwar countercultural poetry and its adjacent literary criticism in the construction of alternative models of masculinity. . . . [Davidson] privileges the poetic genre because he considers it the ideal site to contest ideologies through literature. Consequently, the author explains that the careful reading of poems produced during the Cold War era provides an accurately complex picture of postwar America—a picture which has become blurred by the convenient forgetfulness resulting from a manichean defense of so-called “moral” and, by extension, “democratic” values from the late 1940s to the late 1960s.”

Mercedes Cuenca | Cercles

Table of Contents

1 Compulsory Homosociality: Charles Olson, Jack Spicer, and the Gender of Poetics
2 From Margin to Mainstream: Postwar Poetry and the Politics of Containment
3 The Lady from Shanghai: California Orientalism and "Guys Like Us"
4 "When the world strips down and rouges up": Redressing Whitman
5 The Changing Name: Writing Gender in the Black Arts Nation Script
6 Definitive Haircuts: Female Masculinity in Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath
7 Hunting among Stones: Poetry, Pedagogy, and the Pacific Rim
Afterword: Moving Borders
List of Works Cited

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