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Phenomenal Reading

Essays on Modern and Contemporary Poetics

Brian M. Reed

Publication Year: 2012

The essays in Phenomenal Reading entice readers to cross accepted barriers, and highlight the work of poets who challenge language-as-usual in academia and the culture at large.
Phenomenal Reading is comprised of essays that are central to how best to read poetry. This book examines individually and collectively poets widely recognized as formal and linguistic innovators. Why do their words appear in unconventional orders? What end do these arrangements serve? Why are they striking? Brian Reed focuses on poetic form as a persistent puzzle, using historical fact and the views of other key critics to clarify how particular literary works are constructed and how those constructions lead to specific effects.
Understanding that explication and contextualization do not always sufficiently harness the power of poetry, Reed pursues phenomenological methods that take into account each reader’s unique perception of the world. This collection of twelve essays values narrative as a tool for conveying the intricacy, contingency, and richness of poetic experience.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Preface: How Reed Wrote Certain of His Essays

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pp. ix-xxvii

This book gathers twelve essays written over a twelve-year span. Eleven of them were published previously in a range of different venues, from ezines to refereed journals. Each essay focuses on one or more twentieth- or twenty-first-century poets known for formal and linguistic experiment. Together, they offer a discontinuous...

I. Political Reading

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1. Carl Sandburg and the Problem of Bad Political Poetry

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pp. 3-31

MacLeish and Sandburg were writing at a moment when, as Cary Nelson has illustrated, the nature and function of modern poetry, and by extension the role of the literary critic, were still greatly contested. When the famous Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren textbook Understanding Poetry first appeared...

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2. Tom Raworth and Poetic Intuition

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pp. 32-57

While studying at Essex University, Tom Raworth published several volumes of experimental verse, among them The Big Green Day (1968), Lion Lion (1970), and Moving (1971). His poetry of these years, Peter Middleton asserts, represents “the purest product of sixties culture that appeared in Britain...

II. Sight and Sound

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3. Ezra Pound’s Utopia of the Eye

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pp. 61-68

“Verse now, 1950, if it is to go ahead, if it is to be of essential use, must, I take it, catch up and put into itself certain laws and possibilities of breath.” So begins Charles Olson’s influential manifesto “Projective Verse.” For Olson and for many avant-garde writers of the 1950s the breath was indeed considered...

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4. Gertrude Stein Speaks

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pp. 69-77

Much to Gertrude Stein’s surprise, the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) made her a celebrity. And fame—if she could properly harness it—promised access to the mass audience that she had long coveted. How, though, would people encounter her writing? What control would she have...

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5. The Baseness of Robert Grenier’s Visual Poetics

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pp. 78-82

I begin with something grossly unfair, because it made me think. In his commonplace book of the postmodern, The Tapeworm Foundry (2000), Darren Wershler-Henry records the following flippant, anonymous recommendation for how to write a poem: “stick a magic marker up your asshole and then scuttle around...

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6. Caroline Bergvall Begins Again

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pp. 83-89

In summer 2000, the British poet and performance artist Caroline Bergvall, working together with the Irish composer Ciarán Maher, recorded a piece titled “Via.” Patiently and equably, she reads forty-seven English translations of the famous opening tercet of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (1321): “Nel mezzo...

III. Writers Reading

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7. Hart Crane and the Challenge of Akron

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pp. 93-109

In most textbooks the name of Hart Crane (1899–1932) is indelibly associated with New York City. There are good reasons for this connection. His epic poem The Bridge (1930) joyously celebrates Manhattan’s skyscrapers, speakeasies, jazz clubs, and burlesque shows. One encounters, too, the city’s diverse...

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8. Robert Duncan and Gertrude Stein

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pp. 110-130

Throughout, he plays with the fact that “Stein” is German for “stone.” He suggests that her violations of English grammar might have been considered a “fault” during her lifetime, but decades later the fault “line[s]” that crisscross the “hesitating glitter” of her writings prove not a hindrance but an...

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9. Reginald Shepherd at Hart Crane’s Grave

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pp. 131-151

In September 2008 the poet Reginald Shepherd passed away after a battle with cancer. He was only forty-five years old and at the height of his career. He had just published his fifth volume of verse, Fata Morgana (2007); a collection of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry...

IV. Associative Reading

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10. Rosmarie Waldrop Renews Collage

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pp. 155-175

In Leaving Lines of Gender (2000), Ann Vickery announces an ambitious project, a cartography of women’s experimental poetry that attends first and foremost to its “practice,” that is, the specific modes, means, and occasions of its production. For Vickery, elucidating poetic practice does not imply a...

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11. John Ashbery after All These Years

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pp. 176-190

John Ashbery has been blessed with longevity and high productivity. Literary critics, though, have sometimes seemed less than jubilant over the writer’s good fortune. What do you do when a laurelled poet refuses to petrify into a well-wrought urn? It causes all sorts of complications. Much less...

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12. The ABCs of Substitutional Poetics

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pp. 191-213

In his essay “Sestina! or, The Fate of the Idea of Form” (2008), Stephen Burt ponders the runaway popularity of the sestina among contemporary North American poets, many of whom otherwise display no consistent commitment to rhyme, meter, or other aspects of traditional poetic form. How can one explain...


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pp. 215-230

Works Cited

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pp. 231-242


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pp. 243-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386016
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817356941

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2012