What the Thunder Said: How “The Waste Land” Made Poetry Modern
Author and professor Jed Rasula discusses his new book What the Thunder Said: How The Waste Land Made Poetry Modern. On the 100th anniversary of T. S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece, Rasula examines The Waste Land’s creation, explosive impact, and enduring influence. Rasula is joined in conversation by Reginald Gibbons, a poet and a Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University. This program will take place online via Zoom. Register for the webinar link here.
More about What the Thunder Said:
When T. S. Eliot published The Waste Land in 1922, it put the thirty-four-year-old author on a path to worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize. “But,” as Jed Rasula writes, “The Waste Land is not only a poem: it names an event, like a tornado or an earthquake. Its publication was a watershed, marking a before and after. It was a poem that unequivocally declared that the ancient art of poetry had become modern.” In What the Thunder Said, Rasula tells the story of how The Waste Land changed poetry forever and how this cultural bombshell served as a harbinger of modernist revolution in all the arts, from abstraction in visual art to atonality in music.
From its famous opening, “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land,” to its closing Sanskrit mantra, “Shantih shantih shantih,” The Waste Land combined singular imagery, experimental technique, and dense allusions, boldly fulfilling Ezra Pound’s injunction to “make it new.” What the Thunder Said traces the origins, reception, and enduring influence of the poem, from its roots in Wagnerism and French Symbolism to the way its strangely beguiling music continues to inspire readers. Along the way, we learn about Eliot’s storied circle, including Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf, and Bertrand Russell, and about poets like Mina Loy and Marianne Moore, whose innovations have proven as consequential as those of the “men of 1914.”
Filled with fresh insights and unfamiliar anecdotes, What the Thunder Said recovers the explosive force of the twentieth century’s most influential poem.
Praise for What the Thunder Said:
“Only a critic with Jed Rasula’s encyclopedic mind, perfect pitch, and remarkable gift for narrative could have produced this astonishing book. For Rasula, The Waste Land is not a poem to be explicated yet again but ‘an explosive event’—one at the crossroads of modernist currents that was to change the course of poetry forever.”
—Marjorie Perloff, author of Infrathin: An Experiment in Micropoetics
“What the Thunder Said provides kaleidoscopic commentaries not just on Eliot, but Pound, Wagner, and Nietzsche, along with cameos by Mina Loy and myriad luminous and overlooked others. As always with Rasula, the style is pure delight: the music of intellect dancing with time.”
—Charles Bernstein, author of Pitch of Poetry
“An impressively written, assiduously argued new approach to The Waste Land, demonstrating that, even after a century, there remains much, much more to be said about this epoch-making poem.”
—Anthony Cuda, author of The Passions of Modernism: Eliot, Yeats, Woolf, and Mann
JED RASULA is the Helen S. Lanier Distinguished Professor at the University of Georgia. He is the author of nine scholarly books and three poetry collections and the coeditor of two anthologies. His recent books include Destruction Was My Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century and History of a Shiver: The Sublime Impudence of Modernism.
REGINALD GIBBONS is a Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University. He is the author of more than half a dozen collections of poetry, including Sparrow: New and Selected Poems (1997), winner of the Balcones Poetry Prize, Creatures of a Day (2008), finalist for the National Book Award, and Last Lake (2016). He has been awarded the Folger Shakespeare Library’s O.B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize and the John Masefield Award from the Poetry Society of America. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Gibbons was the editor of TriQuarterly magazine from 1981 to 1997, during which time he co-founded and edited TriQuarterly Books. He has also been a columnist for The American Poetry Review. The editor of numerous anthologies, including The Poet’s Work (1979) and Triquarterly New Writers (1996), Gibbons has been represented in Best American Poetry and the Pushcart Prize anthology. Gibbons has also published short stories and critical essays as well as translations of Spanish and Mexican poetry and ancient Greek tragedy. His first novel, Sweetbitter (1994), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. He is the author of a work of poetics, How Poems Think (2015) and a collection of short stories, An Orchard in the Street: Stories (2017).