The Poet Resigns
Essays on Poetry in a Difficult Time
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: The University of Akron Press
Title Page, Copyright
Instead of an Introduction
I’ve never thought about resigning from poetry myself, but perhaps that’s because I haven’t had to: looking back on the changes in the kinds of writing I’ve done, I see I’ve become less and less of a poet, and more and more of a critic. One needn’t resign from a job when one has, for the most part, stopped showing up. When I first realized this, ...
Situations of Poetry
The Discursive Situation of Poetry
Statistics confirm what many have long suspected: poetry is being read by an ever-smaller slice of the American reading public. Poets and critics who have intuited this have blamed many things, but for the most part they have blamed the rise of MFA programs in...
Poetry and Politics, or: Why are the Poets on the Left?
Why are we so endlessly fascinated with the connection between poetry and politics? We keep asking about how poetry relates to the political. And when we ask about poetry and politics in the United States, we find ourselves asking another question, too: why are the poets on the political left? Lucia Perillo found...
The Aesthetic Anxiety
If you are personally acquainted with any significant number of poets, you will perhaps not be surprised to find that the thesis of this essay is as follows: poets want to have their cake and eat it too. The particulars of the argument, though, go beyond the intuitive and the obvious, or so I hope. What I want to say is this: since the nineteenth...
Public Faces in Private Places
My title comes from some lines of W. H. Auden’s in The Orators: “Private faces in public places / Are wiser and nicer / Than public faces in private places” (5). Often, modern poets have presented their work as a matter of private faces in public places— that is, as the voice of private, authentic individual conscience entering...
is there such a thing as post-avant poetry? If so, what makes it post-avant? And why is it as it is? The answers, in the briefest form I can devise, are “yes,” “reticence about large claims,” and “generational experience,” respectively. Such answers are, of course, brief and crude enough to be entirely indefensible. A slightly more...
When Poets Dream of Power
It is difficult to know where to begin a discussion of poets and their relations to power: Longinus identified the decline of sublimity in Latin poetry with the political crisis of the Roman Republic; and Dante’s hell is populated in large measure with figures consigned to the inferno as matters of political score-settling. Closer to our own...
Can Poems Communicate?
"Where does one go in one’s writing,” the grand old poet-critic Donald Davie once wondered, “if the King James Bible has become a recondite source?” (21). The problem Davie framed is an old one, and was already eating away at W. B. Yeats in the 1890s, when he worried over whether there was a public language...
The Poet in the University
Ask an American poet where his or her paycheck comes from, and the most common answer, by far, will contain the word “university.” The phenomenon of the poet as professor is not new, but the predominance of the phenomenon has become striking, and it raises a number of questions. What is the effect on poetry? What...
The State of the Art
The year is 1712, and the state of the art of American poetry is, in a word, provincial. The best-known and best-selling American poem remains Michael Wigglesworth’s The Day of Doom: A Poetical Description of the Great and Last Judgment, written some forty years earlier and currently in its fifth edition. A bumpy, ballad-meter ride...
To Criticize the Poetry Critic
Seeing the New Criticism Again
Once upon a time there was a small group of men who cared about poems, but not much else. They wanted to discuss poems in terms of their form, and such was their love for poetry they wanted these poems to be perfect, for every detail to balance out every other, and for the poems to come together in wonderfully ironic wholes. They worked...
Poetry / Not Poetry
Where do we draw the line between what is poetry and what isn’t poetry? Or, to put the question another way, what makes a poem a poem? Ask a poet like Howard Nemerov, and you’ll get a beautiful answer, in the form of a poem called “Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry": ...
The Death of the Critic
The most imposing obstacle facing anyone foolhardy enough to ask whether an avant-garde artistic praxis is possible under postmodern conditions is the much-contested nature of the terms themselves. Since my claim here will be that a postmodern avantgardism...
Marginality and Manifesto
Can the manifesto matter? Or is it an outdated weapon in the arsenal of the poets, a rusted blunderbuss only to be displayed under glass in the museum of cultural oddities? Questions like these seem to lurk just below the surface in “Eight Manifestos,” a special section of the February 2009 issue of Poetry, a feature edited and introduced...
Poets and Poetry
A Portrait of Reginald Shepherdas Philoctetes
Philoctetes, sadly, has never been a favorite character of Greek legend. He gets only a brief mention in the Iliad, and missed his chance for greater acclaim when the last manuscript of Proclus’ Little Iliad, where he may have played a greater role, was lost to history. The Greek tragedians liked him—he’s the subject of a play by Aeschylus...
True Wit, False Wit
We live in an age of false wit in poetry, but that’s not a bad thing. And “false” should not be taken to mean “bad” here, any more than “minor” should be taken to mean “insignificant” when Deleuze and Guattari use the term to describe Kafka’s oeuvre. But if we look at the dominant mode of wit in contemporary...
Emancipation of the Dissonance
the title of C. S. Giscombe’s 2008 book of prose poems, Prairie Style, calls to mind the school of architecture that first came to life in the Midwest at the end of the nineteenth century; reached its zenith in Frank Lloyd Wright’s work during the First World War; and passed out of favor after the mid–1920s. But if the title makes us try to...
In the Haze of Pondered Vision
If you were to ask the nearest poet or critic about Yvor Winters, the response you’d most likely get would be “Ivan who?” But if your local man-or-woman of letters had in fact heard of Winters, and had not been one of Winters’ own students at Stanford back in the ’50s or ’60s, you’d probably get a negative response to his name, something...
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Poetry
In his ponderous classic of sociology, Economy and Society, Max Weber
tells us a thing or two about the Protestants whose ethic of self-denial
has formed the basis of modern capitalism:
The person who lives as a worldly ascetic is a rationalist, not only in the sense that he rationally systematizes his own conduct, but also in...
Power and the Poetics of Play
The meaning of play has been one of John Matthias’ most enduring poetic concerns. But just what his poetry has to say on the issue has been a matter of some controversy even among his ablest critics. For Jeremy Hooker, Matthias’ poetry is a celebration of play as a sign of human freedom. “Matthias the poet knows himself to...
Neruda’s Earth, Heidegger’s Earth
that passage comes quote from “Towards an Impure Poetry,” the editorial Pablo Neruda wrote for the first issue of the shortlived and fabulously-named Spanish journal Caballo verde para la poesía (Green Horse for Poetry) in 1935. The editorial was really an act of poetic self-defense: ever since the Chilean poet had arrived in Spain...
The Decadent of Moyvane
the word “decadence,” in a literary context, tends to conjure up a vague whiff of Swinburne and scandal, or perhaps images of The Yellow Book, with its Beardsley covers and its selections of Arthur Symonds and Richard Le Gallienne. The Francophile associates the word with slogans such as épater le bourgeois and l’art pour l’art. The true...
James Joyce was born in Omaha in 1939. His first book,
Laforgue / Bolaño
Bohemia, that mythical land of outsiders, rebels, malcontents, slumming rich kids, and rent-grubbing scam artists, spreads its porous boundaries wide in both space and time, extending from Montparnasse to Greenwich Village to North Beach, from Thomas DeQuincey’s opium den to Barney Rosset’s office at Grove Press in the...
Oppen / Rimbaud
A poet I admire once told me he was thinking of giving up poetry. The author of two well-received books, he certainly wasn’t failing as a poet, but for some reason he seemed to feel that poetry was failing him. He wasn’t being fired from Parnassus Industries: after establishing a successful career, he was thinking of drafting...
Remembering Robert Kroetsch
Robert Kroetsch, who died in a car accident at the age of 84, was one of the most important Canadian writers of his generation. I had the privilege of knowing him a little when I was an undergraduate. Though I never took a course with him, he was a presence on the local literary scene, and a few times I found myself having a drink...
Myself I Sing
Nothing in this Life
A pair of young poets once approached me and asked if I’d like to contribute to an anthology they were editing. I write prose quickly, but I’m a slow poet, and don’t keep much ready-topublish material on hand, so I was a bit wary. “What’s the theme?” I asked, as a series of possibilities for an anthology in which I might belong...
It was a summer day in 2010 when it hit me: it was Coleridge now, and had probably been for a year or more. The ‘it’ in question is something I suppose I’d call my personal laureate: the poet with whom I feel the strongest connection, but also something more than that. My laureate is also the poet who serves as a kind of private patron saint...