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Stubborn Poetries

Poetic Facticity and the Avant-Garde

Peter Quartermain

Publication Year: 2013

Stubborn Poetries is a study of poets whose work, because of its difficulty, apparent obduracy, or simple resistance to conventional explication, remains more-or-less firmly outside the canon.
The focus of the essays in Stubborn Poetries by Peter Quartermain is on nonmainstream poets--often unknown, unstudied, and neglected writers whose work bucks preconceived notions of what constitutes the avant-garde. “Canonical Strategies and the Question of Authority: T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams” opens the collection and sounds a central theme: Quartermain argues that Williams, especially in his early work, soughtnoncanonical status, in contrast to Eliot, who rapidly identified his work with a literary and critical establishment. As is well known, Eliot attracted early critical and academic attention; Williams did not. Williams’s insistence that the personal and individual constituted his sole authority is echoed again and again in the work of the writers examined in the subsequent essays.
In considering the question “What makes the poems the way they are?”most of the essays offer close readings (etymological, social, linguistic, and even political) of linguistically innovative twentieth-century poets. Linguistic innovation, as Marjorie Perloff and many other critics have shown, shows no reverence for national boundaries; two of the poets discussed are British (Basil Bunting and Richard Caddel) and two Canadian (Robin Blaser and Steve McCaffery). The last four essays in the book consider more general topics: the shape and nature of the book, the nature of poetic fact, the performance of the poem (is it possible to read a poem aloud well?), and--closing the book--an excursus (via the Greek myth of Io and the typography of Geofroy Tory) on the alphabet.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Each of the essays in this book was written for and to an occasion. Consequently, they do not as a whole pursue a central argument or explicit thesis that might pull them together into a coherent and interlocking whole. They do not attempt to cover a particular (or even a general) field. They were not written with a collection in mind, nor a book. ...

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1. Introduction: Reading the Difficult

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pp. 1-13

In 1926 Gertrude Stein suggested that “the creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic, there is hardly a moment in between,”1 and the lure of such disobedience is compelling. If you want to talk or write about innovative writing, it challenges our vocabulary: we don’t have the right words to be precise or exact. ...

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2. Canonical Strategies and the Question of Authority: Eliot and Williams

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pp. 14-26

t has become a critical commonplace to describe the literary and critical relations of Eliot and Williams in terms of the relationship between canonical and non-canonical writing, and it does seem to be true that, as Louis Menand puts it, “Eliot did invent, for a common set of terms and judgments, ...

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3. Basil Bunting: Poet of the North

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pp. 27-46

The Northumbrian coal miner poet Joseph Skipsey and his wife Sara, later to be family friends of the Buntings, were appointed custodians of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon, on the recommendation of Robert Browning, Edward Burne-Jones, Edmund Gosse, Andrew Lang, William Morris, the Rossettis, Bram Stoker, ...

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4. Parataxis in Basil Bunting and Louis Zukofsky

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pp. 47-68

I begin by defining parataxis in the simplest possible terms. Parataxis is not hypotaxis. Hypotactic sentences use subordinate clauses: “The man who I saw yesterday fell down the stairs this morning”: a principal clause and a subordinate clause. Hypotactic structures hierarchize discourse; parataxis does not. ...

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5. Writing and Authority in Zukofsky’s: Thanks to the Dictionary

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pp. 69-86

In considering Zukofsky’s poetics of procedural composition, as the following notes on the writer’s authority must, I have in mind something along the lines of Joseph Conte’s notions of “a procedural order that is proteinic and predetermined,” and one that is “aleatory,” random, and “protean,” but I make no sharp distinctions between the two, ...

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6. Thinking with the Poem: Louis Zukofsky

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pp. 87-97

“Poems are only acts upon particulars,” Zukofsky said in 1930, and “only through such activity do they become particulars themselves.”1 Thinking with the poem, I’m going to belabor the obvious, and I’m going view some of those particulars very narrowly indeed. I begin with vowels. ...

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7. Reading Niedecker

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pp. 98-105

The air of lucidity and inconsequentiality makes this hard to talk about—as if we knew the speaker, and could weigh the possible affront afforded Grace; nothing’s explained, and the implications are left hanging, a gesture toward metaphor turning misplaced spices into a joke and reinforcing the tone, mildly ironic and comic. Affectionate. ...

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8. “Take Oil / and Hum” : Niedecker and Bunting

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pp. 106-117

They’re such very different poets you’d never mistake one for the other. Niedecker’s language is unmistakably spoken, conversational, at times almost casual—don’t get me wrong, she’s an extremely careful writer of very great skill indeed—but she does not display her consciousness of her art. Bunting’s a different story. ...

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9. The Mind as Frying Pan: Robin Blaser’s Humor

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pp. 118-126

What I have to say draws in part upon very interesting observations and reflections on laughter by Jean-Luc Nancy, in The Birth to Presence; by Catherine Clément, in Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture; and most of all by David Appelbaum, in his really quite extraordinary book Voice.1 That acknowledgment alone should be sufficient notice that an alternative title, ...

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10. “Writing on Air for Dear Life” : Richard Caddel

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pp. 127-144

A subtitle for this paper might be “Untidy Poetics.” Canadian or U.S. visitors to England often comment on the smoothness of the landscape with its neat hedgerows and rolling fields, picture perfect after centuries of cultivation. But in the English North, that smoothness is disturbed, the sporadic turbulence and abruptness of the landscape ...

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11. “The Tattle of Tongueplay” : Mina Loy’s Love Songs

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pp. 145-154

My primary interest is not in social or thematic issues, but in language issues. This puts me at a disadvantage since, like H. D., Lorine Niedecker, Gertrude Stein, and other women writers of almost any century, Mina Loy was, until Roger Conover’s careful edition of Loy’s selected poems, The Lost Lunar Baedeker (1996), ill-served (if served at all) by various editors. ...

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12. “Conversation with One’s Peers” : George Oppen and Some Women Writers

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pp. 155-173

My title comes from a letter George Oppen wrote to the English poet Charles Tomlinson in 1963: “I have come to believe again, perhaps in more rather than less despair, that the only possible hope is in the conversation with one’s peers.”1 In the following pages I sketch the situation of women writing in the 1960s and possibly the 1970s, and Oppen’s bearing toward them. ...

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13. Momently: The Politics of the Poem, a Note on Robert Creeley

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pp. 174-193

In February 1962 Robert Creeley gave a landmark reading in Vancouver. It consisted largely of poems from For Love, published two months later in April. The audience had in its number the students in Warren Tallman’s year-long undergraduate course Approaches to Poetry, which in its second semester focussed largely on Don Allen’s anthology The New American Poetry 1945– 1960. ...

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14. Syllable as Music: Lyn Hejinian’s Writing Is an Aid to Memory

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pp. 194-207

Musicating language—making language into music—composing, that is to say, poems. I’m going to talk about Lyn Hejinian, and I begin with two quotations. The first is from John Dryden (1687): ...

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15. McCaffery’s Diptych: The Black Debt

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pp. 208-219

The epigraph to Steve McCaffery’s The Black Debt gives fair warning to the reader. It is Samuel Johnson, quoting Horace’s Ars Poetica and adding a Latin tag apparently his own. He is instructing the Rev. Dr. Maxwell about James Macpherson’s Fingal, An Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books (published 1762): ...

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16. “Getting Ready to Have Been Frightened” : How I Read Bruce Andrews

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pp. 220-244

Anticipating what Steve McCaffery calls “the possibility that grammar masks a military practice,” Wittgenstein observed that “Grammatical conventions cannot be justified by describing what is represented: any such description already presupposes the grammatical rules.”1 In “Gnote” (1991), McCaffery demolishes and reconstitutes in formal and witty visual play ...

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17. Paradise as Praxis: Bruce Andrews’s Lip Service

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pp. 245-255

In what follows I draw quite extensively on two essays by Andrews: the title essay of Paradise & Method, in which he discusses the compositional principles and procedures of his nearly 400-page poem Lip Service, and his major but largely neglected essay on sexuality in writing, “Be Careful Now You Know Sugar Melts in Water,” first published in Temblor in 1987.1 ...

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18. Undoing the Book

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pp. 256-268

This chapter seeks to raise problems rather than to solve them. It is directed at two general questions about bibliography: What is it, and What good is it? Though I propose to raise both, my primary concern is with deliberate challenges to the art of bibliography understood as the study of the book as material object. ...

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19. Poetic Fact

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pp. 269-287

Those two sentences have intrigued me for some time, they raise so many fundamental questions regarding the nature of poetry. Limitations of space make it difficult to consider here in any detail either what Zukofsky calls a chain of poetic fact or what he might mean by that difficult word restituting . ...

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20. Sound Reading

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pp. 288-302

I want to consider in general terms the vexing question of whether it is possible to read a poem aloud badly—and of course, its corollary, whether (and under what conditions) it might be possible to read a poem aloud well. On the face of it this looks pretty absurd, since we’ve all been to lifeless readings of leaden parlor-poetry, ...

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21. Paradise of Letters

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pp. 303-312

On 28 April 1529, at the sign of the Pot Cassé on the Petit Pont, just over two-and- a- half years after King François I of France had on 5 September 1526 by Royal Privilege granted him exclusive copyright for ten years, Geofroy Tory finished printing his attempt “to lead the unlearned to the contemplation and comprehension of well-formed letters.”1 ...


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pp. 313-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386719
E-ISBN-10: 0817386718
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817357481
Print-ISBN-10: 0817357483

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 6 illustrations
Publication Year: 2013