Mastery's End

Travel and Postwar American Poetry

Title Details

Pages: 298

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 01/31/2005

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2663-4

List Price: $46.95

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Mastery's End

Travel and Postwar American Poetry

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  • Reviews

Focusing on lyric poetry, Mastery's End looks at important, yet neglected, issues of subjectivity in post-World War II travel literature. Jeffrey Gray departs from related studies in two regards: nearly all recent scholarly books on the literature of travel have dealt with pre-twentieth-century periods, and all are concerned with narrative genres. Gray questions whether the postcolonial theoretical model of travel as mastery, hegemony, and exploitation still applies. In its place he suggests a model of vulnerability, incoherence, and disorientation to reflect the modern destabilizing nature of travel, a process that began with the unprecedented movement of people during and after World War II and has not abated since.

What the contemporary discourse concerning displacement, border crossing, and identity needs, says Gray, is a study of that literary genre with the least investment in closure and the least fidelity to ethnic and national continuities. His concern is not only with the psychological challenges to identity but also with travel as a mode of understanding and composition. Following a summary of American critical perspectives on travel from Emerson to the present, Gray discusses how travel, by nature, defamiliarizes and induces heightened awareness. Such phenomena, Gray says, correspond to the tenets of modern poetics: traversing territories, immersing the self in new object worlds, reconstituting the known as unknown. He then devotes a chapter each to four of the past half-century's most celebrated English-speaking, western poets: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Ashbery, and Derek Walcott. Finally, two multi-poet chapters examine the travel poetry of Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Robert Creeley, Lyn Hejinian, Nathaniel Mackey and others.

Jeffrey Gray's Mastery's End reads as a complex and intelligent unpacking of the trope of travel. It's a metaphor that in his hands allows us to better understand not only each of the four main poets discussed but—in the long run—ourselves as well. This study is a significant and vital contribution to our understanding of contemporary American and Caribbean poetry.

—Paul Mariani, author of Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius

This is a great book—and in two distinct ways. It is the most capacious guide to recent and contemporary American poetry now available. And it provides a radically new and productive approach to considering the entwined relations between travel and literature. If scholars weren't interested in those topics before, they will be now.

—Steven Gould Axelrod, editor of The New Anthology of American Poetry

Jeffrey Gray, himself, as he tells us, a veteran traveler, has produced an intriguing and highly original study on the centrality of travel in post-World War II American poetry. Travel, as Gray defines it, means disorientation and destabilization, the loss of certainty and familiarity, the condition of homelessness. From Elizabeth Bishop, for whom ‘travel’ became the condition of life, to the exilic writing of Derek Walcott, the mental travels of John Ashbery, and the conception of travel as the hunt for a new language in Lyn Hejinian's Oxota, Gray provides us with our own critical journey through the realms of late-twentieth-century poetic consciousness. Most of the poets discussed here have been written about frequently, but Gray sheds genuinely new light on the momentum of their work.

—Marjorie Perloff, author of Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary

Jeffrey Gray’s remarkable book, Mastery’s End, carries the reader on an exhilarating journey down many unexpected paths. As a seasoned traveler and a wise literary critic, Gray explores the creative and inventive forms in which American poets have encountered and expressed their worlds. From Bishop’s Ouro Preto and Lowell’s 'mud smooth path' to Walcott’s 'Tropic Zone' and Ashbery’s 'sun-blackened landscape,' Gray reveals the dazzling variety and complexity of contemporary lyrics that express the fears, uncertainty, nostalgia, longing, and pleasures of perceiving the familiar, the new, the foreign, the unknown.

—Emory Elliott, University of California, Riverside

This volume allows the reader to meet these familiar poets on new ground, to hear texts in voices at once familiar and new.


Through Gray’s original and revealing readings of poems concerning travel, one learns much about the state of postmodernity.

Midwest Book Review

The close readings in Mastery’s End are so smart and so generous that one finishes the book hoping that Gray turns next to an even wider-ranging study of contemporary poetry.

American Literature

About the Author/Editor

JEFFREY GRAY is an associate professor of English at Seton Hall University.