Well-Versed

Ohio Wesleyan Professor’s New Book Explores American Poetry

By Cole Hatcher

David Caplan, Ph. D.

DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University faculty member David Caplan recently published “American Poetry: A Very Short Introduction” as the latest book in Oxford University Press’s highly regarded “Very Short Introduction Series.”

The series features leading figures introducing their fields. According to The New Yorker: “The Very Short Introductions range from worth reading to wonderfully appealing. It helps that some volumes are the product of exceptional writers and thinkers.” Other writers in the series include Mary Beard on Classics, Jonathan Culler on Literary Theory, Peter Singer on Marx, and Terry Eagleton on The Meaning of Life.

“American Poetry” is the seventh book by Caplan, Ph.D., professor of English and associate director of Creative Writing at Ohio Wesleyan. His 160-page book was published Dec. 2 by Oxford University Press, which has released nearly 700 books in its “Very Short Introductions” series since launching it in 1995.

American Poetry: A Very Short Introduction

“The book is meant for a general audience,” Caplan said, “for people interested in American poetry but who do not have much of a background in it.”

In the book, he proposes a new theory of American poetry that argues “two characteristics mark the vast, contentious literature. On the one hand, several of America’s major poets and critics claim that America needs a poetry equal to the country’s distinctiveness. ... On the other hand, American poetry welcomes techniques, styles, and traditions that originate from far beyond its borders. ... These two characteristic features energize American poetry, quickening its development into a great national literature that continues to inspire poets in the contemporary moment.”

In addition, Caplan’s book “moves through history and honors the poets’ artistry by paying close attention to the verse forms, meters, and styles they employ,” the publisher states. “Examples range from Anne Bradstreet, writing a century before the United States was founded, to the poets of the Black Lives Matter movement. Individual chapters consider how other major figures such as T.S. Eliot, Phillis Wheatley, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, W.H. Auden, and Langston Hughes emphasize convention or idiosyncrasy, and turn to American English as an important artistic resource. This concise examination of American poetry enriches our understanding of both the literature’s distinctive achievement and the place of its most important writers within it.”

Currently, Caplan is working on his third poetry collection, “North Shore,” a collection of elegies honoring his father, and a monograph of American poetry tentatively titled “The Art of Exclusion.” His other books include “Into My Garden,” “Rhyme’s Challenge: Hip Hop, Poetry, and Contemporary Rhyming Culture,” and “Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form.”

Learn more about Caplan, Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of English, and its majors and minors at owu.edu/english.


Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 70 undergraduate majors and competes in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through its signature program, The OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan teaches students to integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and global perspective, and apply knowledge in real-world settings. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and included on the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “Best Colleges” lists. Connect with OWU expert interview sources at owu.edu/experts or learn more at owu.edu.