Everyday Reading is the first full-length critical study of the culture surrounding American popular and commercial poetry in the twentieth century. Exploring poetry scrapbooks, old-time radio show recordings, advertising verse, corporate archives, and Hallmark greeting cards, among other unconventional sources, Mike Chasar casts American poetry as an everyday phenomenon consumed and created by a vast range of readers in different and complex ways. Capturing American poetry’s truly diverse forms and appeal, Chasar shows how the genre helped set the stage-before television, rock music, video games, and the Internet-for the dynamics of popular culture and mass media today.
Chasar investigates twentieth-century American poetry’s audience of millions and maps its range of aesthetics, cultural uses, relationship to canonical verse, and unexpected presence in many parts of modern life. Far from being a marginal art form read by a select group of educated individuals, poetry was part and parcel of American popular culture, spreading rapidly as the consumer economy expanded and companies such as Burma-Shave exploited the form’s profit-making potential. Poetry also offered ordinary Americans a wealth of opportunities for creative, emotional, political, and intellectual expression, whether through scrapbooking, participation in radio programs, or poetry contests. By reenvisioning the uses of twentieth-century poetry, Chasar enables a richer understanding of the innovations of modernist and avant-garde poets and the American reading public’s sophisticated powers of feeling and perception.