The terms 'poetry' and 'realism' have a complex and often oppositional relationship in American literary histories of the postbellum period. The core narrative holds that 'realism', the major literary 'movement' of the era, developed apace in prose fiction, while poetry, stuck in a hopelessly idealist late-Romantic mode, languished and stagnated. Poetry is almost entirely absent from scholarship on American literary realism except as the emblem of realism's opposite: a desiccated genteel 'twilight of the poets.' Realist Poetics in American Culture, 1866-1900 refutes the familiar narrative of postbellum poetics as a scene of failure, and it recovers the active and variegated practices of a diverse array of realist poets across print culture. The triumph of the twilight tale in the twentieth century obscured, minimized, and flattened the many poetic discourses of the age, including but not limited to a significant body of realist poems currently missing from US literary histories. Excavating an extensive archive of realist poems, the volume offers a significant revision to the genre-exclusive story of realism and, by extension, to the very foundations of postbellum American literary history dating back to the earliest stages of the discipline.
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