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Melville Among the Poets CHAIR: CHRISTOPHER N. PHILLIPS, LAFAYETTE COLLEGE W ith the rise of new formalism and historical poetics, Melville’s poetry has received increasing critical attention in recent years. But the nagging question of whether Melville has received his due as a poet, or whether Melville can achieve wider recognition as a major poet, hovers in the background of the new work on Melville’s considerable poetic corpus. The dense, allusive style of Melville’s poetry does not yield its secrets easily, and such complexity often led earlier critics—influenced by New Critical investments in what Virginia Jackson calls “lyric reading”—to dismiss or downgrade Melville’s poetic achievement. Two panels at ALA in May 2011 shared the theme of “Melville Among the Poets,” building from the notion that finding effective ways to appreciate and contextualize Melville’s poetry entails a consideration of the company that Melville keeps in his own reading, in his reception, in his historical moment, and beyond. As it turns out, there is considerable interest in placing Melville among writers of his past, present, and future, and the scholarship now being undertaken on this question is marked by a wide range of critical methods and consistently high quality. What began as a vision for a single panel grew into a pair of panels dealing with Melville’s later works and Battle-Pieces, respectively. Clarel and Beyond A s in his fiction, Melville was a continual experimenter with form in his poetry, and that aspect of his career was a focal point in this panel. Through methods of close reading, textual scholarship, influence studies, and genre criticism, the papers dealing with Melville’s later works and influence generated a lively discussion about the interactions between prose and verse in Melville’s writing, his relationship to the work of Emily Dickinson, and the culture of experimentation that in many ways defined nineteenth-century poetry on both sides of the Atlantic. Together, these papers demonstrated that there is still considerable “sea-room” for scholarship on Melville’s poetry, and that the range of poets who play a role in interpreting that poetry—from Dante to Bayard Taylor to Robert Penn Warren—shows that Melville-as-poet keeps good company indeed. c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 124 L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S E X T R A C T S “Melville, Dante, and the End of the Poem” Martin Kevorkian The University of Texas at Austin M elville has long been understood as a writer who engaged deeply with those he considered major authors, often in the form of annotated copies of influential works. Dante is just such a major author for Melville, and particularly for his poetry. After acquiring the Cary translation of the Divine Comedy in 1848, Melville read his Dante repeatedly and actively, marking the poem even more than his copy of Milton. While critics have noted the influence of Dante in Melville’s fiction, the Divine Comedy arguably served as a structural model for Clarel, particularly in the way that both poems resist a final ending and thematize their own impossibility. Indeed, the Paradiso is about its own impossibility, as it breaks through barriers of time and space. The claustrophobia of Clarel’s poetics—the short tetrameter lines, the heavy use of enjambment and caesura to create the sense of the Holy Land’s walls and cliffs—dominates the first canto and continues throughout the poem. The “Epilogue,” however, largely dispenses with enjambment and caesura and expands the lines into heroic couplets, giving a sense of relief and freedom even as the hope those lines convey is ultimately conditional. Indeed, the hope that the narrator holds out to Clarel waits beyond the end of the line, waiting for the impossible to manifest itself. “Melville, Milton, and the Footnotes” Douglas Robillard University of New Haven [Prof. Robillard was unable to attend the conference.] “Melville’s American Poetic Contemporaries” Peter Norberg Saint Joseph’s University W hile Melville is often seen as a...


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