The Poet Resigns
Essays on Poetry in a Difficult Time
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: The University of Akron Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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During the years over which these essays were written I was gener-ously supported by Lake Forest College, by the Illinois Arts Council, and by the Swedish Academy, and I am grateful. I am grateful, too, to the many editors, conference panel chairs, and publishers who invited and welcomed the essays in this book: Boris Jardine of Cambridge ...
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Instead of an Introduction
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...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, an inner dialogue broke out between my accusing superego and my ego, which stood like a guilty thing surprised. It was as if my superego had ...
Situations of Poetry
The Discursive Situation of Poetry
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...“Why do poets continue to write? Why keep playing if it’s such a mug’s game? Some, no doubt, simply fail to understand the situation.”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 creative writing. While they have made various recommendations on ...
Poetry and Politics, or:Why are the Poets on the Left?
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We don’t spend much time wondering what poetry has to do with neu-roscience or television writing or college basketball, yet these are impor-tant areas of American life that involve assertions about truth, form, morality, and the nature of culture—all subjects regularly claimed as poetry’s turf. Yet the connection between poetry and politics interests ...
The Aesthetic Anxiety
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...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 century, poets have faced a dilemma. On the one hand, many poets have felt the allure of the radical freedoms of an entirely autonomous art, an ...
Public Faces in Private Places
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...y 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 the public sphere. Such a vision of poetry is, no doubt, fraught with its own problems and contradictions, but none of those concern me here. ...
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...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 extended treatment in the form of a series of exhibits will, I hope, be Reginald Shepherd, in an essay called “Who You Callin’ Post-Avant?” ...
When Poets Dream of Power
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...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 age, and in our own language, we find the Elizabethan poets, many of whom were in one way or another members of the power elite of their ...
Can Poems Communicate?
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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 through which poems could connect with the wider world. What can a poet do when he or she can’t expect a shared frame of cultural reference ...
The Poet in the University
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...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 happens to poetry’s reputation-making machinery when it becomes linked to America’s hierarchical system of academic institutions? What ...
The State of the Art
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...the year is 1712, and the state of the art of American poetry is, in a word, provincial. The best-known and best-selling Amer-ican 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 through Calvinist theology, it will remain popular for decades. When Francis Jenks writes about it in the Christian Examiner in 1828, he’ll remind ...
To Criticize the Poetry Critic
Seeing the New Criticism Again
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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
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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 I imagine many poets will like the answer: it’s elegant, and it pays a compliment to poetry, making it fly, while prose merely falls. But in the end Nemerov’s answer about the nature of poetry is evasive, offering ...
The Death of the Critic
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...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 avant-gardism is not only possible but manifest in that most conservative of arts, the art of criticism, I hope I may be forgiven for deferring a dem-onstration of that claim until I’ve established just what I mean by ‘avant-...
Marginality and Manifesto
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...an 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 intro-duced by Mary Ann Caws, the unquestioned dean of manifesto studies. On the one hand, the section gestures toward the idea of the manifesto ...
Poets and Poetry
A Portrait of Reginald Shepherdas Philoctetes
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...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 and another by Euripedes, and two by Sophocles—but their audiences didn’t fall in love with any of these plays, and history has been unkind ...
True Wit, False Wit
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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 “insig-nificant” when Deleuze and Guattari use the term to describe Kafka’s oeuvre. But if we look at the dominant mode of wit in contemporary American poetry, and describe it in terms of the classical categories of poetic wit developed in the eighteenth century, it is indeed a false wit that ...
Emancipation of the Dissonance
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...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 draw an analogy between Giscombe’s art and Wright’s, it misleads us. A better analogy comes if we look to what the more advanced musical ...
In the Haze of Pondered Vision
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...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 along the lines of “That reactionary!” or “Such a vicious and narrow man!” It is too easy to forget Winters, who never much cared to work ...
The Protestant Ethic andthe Spirit of Poetry
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...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 his rejection of everything that is ethically irrational, aesthetic, or dependent upon his own emotional reactions to the world and its ...
Power and the Poetics of Play
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...the meaning of play has been one of John Matthias’ most endur-ing 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 belong to the species homo ludens,” writes Hooker in The Presence of the Past (103). Hooker refers, of course, to Johann Huizinga’s great study Homo ...
Neruda’s Earth, Heidegger’s Earth
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It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coal bins, barrels, and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth, like a text for all ...
The Decadent of Moyvane
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...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 connoisseur thinks of Théophile Gautier’s rebellion against neoclassi-cism and the doctrine of art in the service of society. If the connoisseur ...
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...ames Joyce was born in Omaha in 1939. His first book, Dubliners, contained the poem sequence “Stops Along the Western Bank of the Missouri River,” which treated his native Nebraska with the intense realism that could only come about under conditions of volun-tary exile. Nostalgia and critical distance combined to make the linked-yet-disparate pieces of the sequence so precise that the river could, if ...
Laforgue / Bolaño
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...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 sixties, to a grimy gallery in a neighborhood too newly annexed to the Bohemian empire for the likes of us to know about it. Bohemia is often ...
Oppen / Rimbaud
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...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 Indus-tries: after establishing a successful career, he was thinking of drafting his letter of resignation. He wouldn’t be alone: Matthew Arnold, for example, gave up poetry for criticism, as did Paul Valéry for a time. Basil ...
Remembering Robert Kroetsch
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...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 under-graduate. 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 with him. He was a novelist, and something of a critic, and one of the founders of the journal boundary 2, but for me he’ll always be two things: ...
Myself I Sing
Nothing in this Life
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...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-to-publish 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 flickered through my head. Rapidly graying poets? White guys who could lose some pounds? The last generation of poets to get on the tenure ...
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...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. It’s not a lifetime appointment like the British laureateship—nor does it, like that storied office, come with a butt of sack. The term of service is ...
Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics