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  • Loving in Verse: Poetic Influence as Erotic
  • Natalie Katerina Prestwich
Stephen Guy-Bray . Loving in Verse: Poetic Influence as Erotic. University of Toronto Press. xviii, 132. $45.00

Guy-Bray concludes his book with material that most scholars would have used to craft an introduction. In the fourth and final chapter, he critiques two of the best-known theories of poetic influence: T.S. Eliot's 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' and Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence. Guy-Bray reads Eliot's model of influence as an impersonal transference between poets and Bloom's as 'a violent Oedipal struggle.' Both theories demonstrate discomfort with the possibility of erotic, and especially homoerotic, connections between poets. In broad terms, Loving in Verse calls into question the 'familiar familial metaphor' that describes poets as fathers and sons and is as old as the poetry itself. Guy-Bray asks us to reconsider poetic influence as an erotic flow between and among both authors and texts. He suggests that we 'speak of poetic penetration, rather than poetic inspiration.' By purposefully ending his study with a discussion of the prevailing theories, Guy-Bray is able to offer new readings of poetic influence from the vantage point of one uninfluenced by former theories. Although Guy-Bray certainly would never claim that he is immune to critical influence, such a reversal strengthens his argument; it suggests that his theory is built on the texts themselves, rather than on the theories of poetic influence that the texts inspired.

The texts that Guy-Bray chooses to read span an ambitiously wide range of time. He first looks at the influences of Virgil in Statius' Thebaid, and of Virgil and Statius in Dante's Divine Comedy. The authors and their predecessors, he claims, become poetic male couples, linked via quotation, allusion, translation, and characterization. Guy-Bray master-fully reads passages in which the predecessors act as characters to argue that 'Statius and Dante seek to harness the power of the male couple and to leave it behind in the world of the poem.' In the second chapter, Guy-Bray moves us forward to the Renaissance and to a poet especially concerned with literary history and poetic influence: Edmund Spenser. The fourth book of the Faerie Queene, he states, is not only 'the one most concerned with textuality and transposition,' but it also is about masculine friendship. Spenser draws from his national literary heritage by recasting Chaucer's Squire's Tale and the anonymous Middle English poem Amys and Amylion. In Spenser's retelling, 'passionate attachments between men are ultimately superseded by marital and family attachments.' Guy-Bray argues, however, that Spenser's move from [End Page 177] the homo-social to the hetero-erotic still leaves some room for the male couple in the form of poetic influence. This potential homoeroticism finally is 'outed' in Guy-Bray's third chapter on the twentieth-century American poet Hart Crane. For Crane, there is a direct connection between sexuality and textuality, as his poems reveal his desire for men as well as his desire for his male poetic predecessors. Guy-Bray closely reads The Bridge to demonstrate the way in which Walt Whitman influences and consequently ravishes Crane and his text. Crane releases the erotic potential that was harboured in Dante's and in Spenser's depictions of male couples, and offers a model of poetic influence that is a male-male erotic encounter.

By traversing the boundaries of periodization, Guy-Bray makes a convincing argument for reading eroticism outside the constraints of historicism. He also redraws the terrain of queer theory by showing how the homoerotic can be found not only in authors and their characters, but also between the texts themselves. Guy-Bray's argument is weakest when it presses on the physical. For instance, he suggests that Keats and Spenser imagine poetry as semen and poetic influence as sodomy, or a 'metaphorical insemination.' I question his underlying assumption that any poetic influence, or in-flowing, is necessarily sodomitical, and necessarily male-to-male. This assumption denies the possibility of influence among female poets. Guy-Bray's readings, however, help us seriously and critically to consider what...


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