In "The Dark End of the Street", Maria Damon brings a new sensitivity to modern poetic criticism. She adds an important dimension to cultural theory, revealing the struggles of American poets as they address important questions about art, social life, and the oppression they encounter. Taking as her premise that the intensity of poetic language is an appropriate venue for representing the "dark end of the street" of social pain, Damon foregrounds the work and lives of a number of modern American poets in order to argue that the American avant-garde is located in the experimental literary works of social "outsiders." Unlike most literary studies on poetry and poetics, "The Dark End of the Street" examines an unusually wide range of poets and poetic activities. Damon explores avant-garde poetry as writing that pushes at the limits of experience as well as at the limits of conventional form. She argues that the marginalized and oppressed, ostensibly the most expendable members of American society, have produced its truly vanguard literature.
Damon brings a sense of social context to a field long dominated by purely formalist criticism, ultimately revealing how time, place, and circumstance affect the creation, distribution, and reception of modern poetry. This book is intended for contemporary American poetry, cultural studies, and American studies.