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“Local Color”: Ronald Johnson, Charles Ives, and America

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This paper considers Charles Ives’s influence on the poetry of Ronald Johnson and its innovative reappraisal of American modernism and nineteenth-century transcendentalism. Keen to distance himself from Pound’s Eurocentric ideas of history and culture, Johnson, following Ives’s example, turns to American vernacular culture in his long poem ARK. In this essay, I propose that, from Ives, Johnson learns the importance of artistic sincerity and integrity that grows out of, and responds to, what Ives calls ‘local color’. In doing so, I argue, Johnson’s transcendentalist-inspired poetics perform a critical unlearning of European tradition. This is a tradition that the American artist, following Emerson, must initially master and assimilate into, rather than reject from, his or her own work in order that that their ‘local color’ achieves wider, universal, significance and impact.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-143
Number of pages15
JournalComparative American Studies
Volume9
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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