West of the American Dream: An Encounter with Texas

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Texas A&M University Press, 2001 - Biography & Autobiography - 340 pages
Like many a pioneer exiting the eastern forests, Paul Christensen felt the strangeness of an alien landscape when he first arrived in Texas in 1974. Schooled in the cool colors of life and poetry in the urban East, he approached his new career in the Southwest with missionary zeal and purpose: to discover the land and the kind of people and poetry it produced.

West of the American Dream is a multifaceted account of that search. Christensen shares his feelings of culture shock in eastcentral Texas as he meets the cowboy version of the bluecollar Texan and his Mexican American neighbors. He introduces readers to the convoluted history of poetry in Texas, a tradition, started by women, that shifted from a focus on the land to the quotidian habits of urban living. Using a unique dissection of the public ritual of a poetry reading, Christensen assesses the origins of modern poetry, the value of imagination in modernist and postmodernist verse, and what Texas poets achieved and how their work evolved after World War II.

Taking a break here and there to describe characters who crossed his path and who embodied different aspects of Texas mythology, Christensen then presents three portraits of modern Texas artist/poets—Vassar Miller, Charles Gordone, and Ricardo Sánchez—to show the results of twentiethcentury poetic evolution in Texas. He concludes that in order for Texas poetry to achieve maturity and fulfillment, writers must turn away from selfreflection and become "new Whitmans" who will instill moral passion and delight into poems that offer a vision of nature and a sense of responsibility for the earth.

West of the American Dream will find an appreciative audience in all readers who respect the deep purpose of environmental action and the important role poets can play in its nurture, in Texas and elsewhere.

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Susan Bright
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About the author (2001)

Paul Christensen earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and has been a professor of English at Texas A&M University since 1974. He is a poet and essayist who lives part of the year in France, where he is a contributing editor to France Today.

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