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The first book-length exploration of a cross-genre art form that combines poetry and theater


American poets’ theater emerged in the postwar period alongside the rich, performance-oriented poetry and theater scenes that proliferated on the makeshift stages of urban coffee houses, shared apartments, and underground theaters, yet its significance has been largely overlooked by critics. Acts of Poetry shines a spotlight on poets’ theater’s key groups, practitioners, influencers, and inheritors, such as the Poets’ Theatre, the Living Theatre, Gertrude Stein, Bunny Lang, Frank O’Hara, Amiri Baraka, Carla Harryman, and Suzan-Lori Parks. Heidi R. Bean demonstrates the importance of poets’ theater in the development of twentieth-century theater and performance poetry, and especially evolving notions of the audience’s role in performance, and in narratives of the relationship between performance and everyday life. Drawing on an extensive archive of scripts, production materials, personal correspondence, theater records, interviews, manifestoes, editorials, and reviews, the book captures critical assessments and behind-the-scenes discussions that enrich our understanding of the intertwined histories of American theater and American poetry in the twentieth century.

Heidi R. Bean is Associate Professor of English, Bridgewater State University. 

​“Explores a theatrical genre that has significant historical and cultural resonance but that has been largely underexamined. The book’s originality, depth of coverage, and readability are impressive.”
—Deborah R. Geis, DePauw University

“As the author argues, poets’ theater has been neglected in part because it falls between disciplinary divides, and often eclipsed because, in most cases, the writers are much better known as poets than as playwrights. Carefully researched and well-written, Acts of Poetry sheds light on a type of theater that mostly lies in the shadows.”
—Tyler Hoffman, Rutgers University, Camden

"Performance’s relationship to print is, in other words, typically Janus-faced. The playscript generates a performance, and the archive preserves its paper traces, but ultimately, neither is considered the thing itself. And yet, from the earliest days of the historical avant-garde, artists have sought to move beyond this bind, to imagine new ways of using print and text within performance. Two new monographs, Jennifer Buckley’s Beyond Text: Theater and Performance in Print After 1900 and Heidi R. Bean’s Acts of Poetry: American Poets’ Theater and the Politics of Performance, bring these artistic experiments to the fore."
Los Angeles Review of Books

- Elizabeth Wiet

"With Acts of Poetry, Heidi Bean has set the stage for such promising and exciting future work."
American Literary History

- American Literary History