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(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 301 pp.
My Silver Planet might be described, only half-jokingly, as an attempt to restore to poetry the credit, purloined by visual art in the course of the twentieth century, for the invention of kitsch. For Tiffany, kitsch is intimately tied up with the question of poetic diction, a linkage that relocates the origins of kitsch from mass culture to the Scottish borderlands, where the ballad revival originated the nexus of antiquarianism, fraud, crypt-ography (writing from and about the grave), and self-conscious poeticism whose radiating influence Tiffany traces in successive chapters. One of the many merits of Tiffany’s “secret history” is its capacity to transport us in imagination back to a world where poetry was the dominant art form. With a near-paranoid, yet ultimately persuasive, density of interconnection, Tiffany weaves together gothic novels, poetic forgery, Mother Goose, elegies for pets, the color silver, and the queer closet of the Shenstone and Walpole sets. Brilliant as it is, all this is merely an amuse-bouche to the volume’s tour de force: a reading of Pound’s Cantos as kitsch epic. Canonical readings of the Cantos frequently minimize or quarantine its fascist elements, and Tiffany’s assertion that kitsch inhabits the heart of the poem will no doubt provoke many a Poundian to the sort of scoffing with which a substantial segment of the fan base used to react to rumors that Liberace was gay. But Tiffany makes good on his claims that kitsch and fascism are central to the poem, and centrally connected to one another within it. Subsequent chapters, less astounding but no less revelatory, extend Tiffany’s account of kitsch poetics to Warhol and the New York School and to other poets within and without the New York School orbit. The history of poetry and kitsch is secret no longer. [End Page 348]
Vernon Shetley is professor of English at Wellesley College and author of After the Death of Poetry: Poet and Audience in Contemporary America. He is currently writing a book on neo-noir filmmaking.