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Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy

Written by Marjorie Perloff

Publication Year: 2004

A new collection of essays from a distinguished critic of contemporary poetry.

Marjorie Perloff is one of the foremost critics of contemporary American poetry writing today. Her works are credited by many with creating and sustaining new critical interest not only in the work of major modernist poets such as Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and Williams but also in the postwar tradition of American poetic innovation that ranges from the Black Mountain poets, through the New York School and concrete poetry, to the Language Poets of the 1980s and '90s.

In Differentials, Perloff explores and defends her belief in the power of close reading, a strategy often maligned as reactionary in today's critical climate but which, when construed differentially, is vital, she believes, to any true understanding of a literary or poetic work, irrespective of how traditional or experimental it is. Perloff also examines key issues in modernism, from Eliot's conservative poetics and Pound's nominalism to translation theory (Wittgenstein, Eugene Jolas, Haroldo de Campos), and the contemporary avant garde, as represented by writers like Susan Howe, Tom Raworth, Rae Armantrout, Ron Silliman, Ronald Johnson, Caroline Bergvall, and Kenneth Goldsmith.

Ultimately, Perloff's most important offerings in Differentials are her remarkably original reflections on the aesthetic process: on how poetry works, and what it means, in and for our time.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-ix

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Introduction: Differential Reading

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pp. xi-xxxiv

Not long ago I was teaching a graduate course called “Theory of the Avant- Garde,” which covered such major movements as Futurism and Dada as well as two individual American “avant-gardists”—Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams. The course material was largely unfamiliar to the class: F. T...

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1. Crisis in the Humanities? Reconfiguring Literary Study for the Twenty-first Century

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pp. 1-19

One of our most common genres today is the epitaph for the humanities. A few years ago, for example, Robert Weisbuch, the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, declared...

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2. Cunning Passages and Contrived Corridors: Rereading Eliot's "Gerontion"

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pp. 20-38

“Gerontion,” written in the summer of 1919 and originally intended as the prelude to The Waste Land,1 was first published in T. S. Eliot’s 1920 volume Ara Vos Prec (London: Ovid Press).2 It did not have a good press. The anonymous reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement complained that the poet’s world-weariness was no more than a “habit, an anti-romantic reaction, a new Byronism,” while Desmond MacCarthy in the...

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3. The Search for “Prime Words”: Pound, Duchamp, and the Nominalist Ethos

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pp. 39-59

In a pioneer study of Ezra Pound’s translations of the Chinese poems found in Japanese transcription in Ernest Fenollosa’s notebooks, Sanehide Kodama discusses the speci¤c changes Pound made in the “Song of Ch’ang-kan” by Li Po (Rihaku in Japanese), translated as “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.” 1 The original, writes Kodama, has the rigid form of...

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4. “But isn’t the same at least the same?” Wittgenstein on Translation

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pp. 60-81

We usually think of the “poetic” as that which cannot fully translate, that which is uniquely embedded in its particular language. The poetry of Rainer Marie Rilke is a case in point. The opening line of the Duino Elegies—Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus den Engel Ordnungen?—has been translated...

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5. “Logocinéma of the Frontiersman”: Eugene Jolas’s Multilingual Poetics and Its Legacies

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pp. 82-101

Language as neurosis or language as “super-tongue for intercontinental expression”? For Eugene Jolas, a self-described “American in exile in the hybrid world of the Franco-German frontier, in a transitional region where people swayed to and fro in cultural and political oscillation, in the twilight zone of the German and French languages,” language was clearly both.1 For his was not just the usual bilingualism (or, more properly, the linguistic divisionism)...

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6. “The Silence that is not Silence”: Acoustic Art in Samuel Beckett’s Radio Plays

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pp. 102-128

The Samuel Beckett who began to write radio plays in the mid-

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7. Language Poetry and the Lyric Subject: Ron Silliman’s Albany, Susan Howe's Buffalo

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pp. 129-154

One of the cardinal principles—perhaps the cardinal principle—of American Language poetics (as of the related current in England, usually labeled “linguistically innovative poetries”)1 has been the dismissal of “voice” as the foundational principle of lyric poetry. In the preface to his anthology In the American Tree (1986), Ron Silliman famously declared that Robert Grenier’s “i hate speech” manifesto, published in the first...

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8. After Language Poetry: Innovation and Its Theoretical Discontents

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pp. 155-174

Innovate: from the Latin in novare, “to make new, to renew, alter.” In our century, from Rimbaud’s “Il faut être absolument moderne!” and Ezra Pound’s “Make It New!” to Donald Allen’s New American Poetry (Grove Press, 1960) and Douglas Messerli’s From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry, 1960–1990 (Sun & Moon, 1994), novelty has been the order of the day. Think of the (now old) New Criticism, the New Formalism...

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9. The Invention of “Concrete Prose”: Haroldo de Campos’s Galaxias and After

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pp. 175-193

On the face of it, Concrete poetry and prose poetry (or poetic prose) would seem to represent two extremes, with the lyric (lineated text framed by white space) as middle term. The Concrete poem is, by common de¤nition, a visual constellation in which, as the “Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry” published by the Noigandres poets o f Brazil put it, “graphic space acts a s structural agent.” 1 Indeed, in the words of Dick Higgins, the Concrete poem characteristically...

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10. Songs of the Earth: Ronald Johnson’s Verbivocovisuals

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pp. 231-241

Songs of the Earth (1970) was Ronald Johnson’s favorite among his own books of poetry. Johnson’s editor, Peter O’Leary, tells us that “he thought of it as nearly perfect,”1 and accordingly O’Leary reproduces all twelve of these minimalist Concrete poems in his Selected Poems. In his preface Johnson explains that these “squarings of the circle” or “strains” were based on the “musics of silence” as recorded by Thoreau on his night walks in the Concord...

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11. The Oulipo Factor: The Procedural Poetics of Christian B

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pp. 205-226

In 1988 Jacques Roubaud, the remarkable poet-novelist-theorist-mathematician, published a book called La vieillesse d’Alexandre (The Old Age of Alexander), which makes the case that the death of the alexandrine—the twelve-syllable...

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12. Filling the Space with Trace: Tom Raworth’s “Letters from Yaddo"

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pp. 264-279

“Letters from Yaddo,” the first text in Visible Shivers,1 was written in April– May 1971 when Tom Raworth was on fellowship at the Yaddo writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. The piece was originally to be published by Frontier Press in a book called Cancer, together with the two texts “Logbook” and “Notebook.” But Cancer never materialized, and the appearance of “Letters from Yaddo” was delayed for some fifteen years. In Visible Shivers...

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13. Teaching the “New” Poetries: The Case of Rae Armantrout

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pp. 243-257

How does the avant-garde poetry being written today play out in the contemporary college classroom? Having taught courses in “Modern Poetry” since 1965 , when I began my teaching career at the Catholic University of America, let me begin by saying that, paradoxically, the poems of, say, Bruce Andrews or Harryette Mullen are at one level more accessible to students than are those of W. B. Yeats or Ezra Pound. For however scrambled a new...

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14. Writing Poetry/Writing about Poetry: Some Problems of Affiliation

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pp. 258-268

Academics like myself, who write about contemporary poetry and poetics, often have an affiliation problem. On the one hand, our subjects are alive, kicking, and ready to praise but also challenge our interpretations of their work. On the other, our more traditional colleagues regard our area of expertise as “soft” and trivial. W hen the time comes to hire for t he Creative Writing program, moreover, they are convinced they can “judge” the poetry...


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pp. 269-298


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pp. 299-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382216
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817351281

Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Poetics.
  • Literature, Modern -- History and criticism.
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