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man. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1986, pp. 148-149.
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--. "Interview, conducted by Manuel Brito." In A Suite of Poetic Voices: Interviews with Contemporary American Poets, edited by Manuel Brito. Santa Brigida, Spain: Kadle Books, 1992, pp. 13-22. Beckett, Tom et al. "A Wild Salience": The Writing of Rae
Armantrout. Cleveland, Ohio: Burning Press, 2000. Vickery, Ann. "Rae Armantrout." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 193, American Poets since World War II, edited by Joseph Conte. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998, pp. 10-20.
ARS POETICAS The long tradition of writing poetic manifestoes that follow the original example of the Roman poet Horace's Ars Poetica, has become, since the romantic age, a defense of new verse practices against reigning poetic doctrines. William Wordsworth's 1800 preface to Lyrical Ballads calls attention to the need for a more common speech in lyric discourse, a nod to the ideals of the French Revolution and a rejection of the aristocratic tradition that had long demanded elevated, rarefied language in poetry. Ever since, manifestos have indicated the shifting ground of social ideals as they affect the writing of new poetry, with wars, depressions, and other major social upheavals precipitating new styles of poetry.
T. S. eliot's essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent," published in 1919, is a classic example of poetic revisionism. Coming on the heels of World War I, a new psychology emerges in the essay, akin to the depth psychology developing in the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, emphasizing the collective life of society in the form of culture and traditions and the individual's use of this collective experience to express one's own nature. This larger culture resides in a poet's mind as the memory of what one has read, seen, felt, said, or heard, fragments of which are fused together into lyric statements by a strong emotion. As Eliot writes in this essay, "The poet's mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present" (8).
Since cultural experience is always changing, emotion will be redefined by each generation of writers drawing on their own times and sense of the world to describe their feelings. In his essay "Hamlet" (1920), Eliot called this process of defining emotion through bits of experience an "objective correlative" and observed that an emotion can be reproduced through the personal associations one has with certain objects. A sequence of objects can provoke a specific emotion in the reader, a principle at the heart of modern advertising, which presents a product or service with an array of provocative and pleasing images to provoke a feeling of need or desire.
"Hamlet" went far toward defining the ways in which English and American poets might graft French symbolist ideas onto their own way of writing. Eliot's argument explains how a poet may use landscape and ordinary life as a screen on which to project personal emotions and moods. Eliot had replaced the objectivity of realistic writing for the more subtle, psychological effects of subjective lyricism, where ordinary objects are suffused with an atmosphere of shadows, far-off sounds, murky lights, and other details that communicate the poet's despair or longing, regret, or feelings of exhaustion. By careful selection of details, even a lamppost or a taxi can provide subtle emotional particularity. Eliot's emotional lyricism was closely related to new styles of painting, in particular, the rendering of landscapes in postimpressionism, as in Vincent van Gogh's fiery depictions of the night sky painted during bouts of mental illness.
Ezra pound's formulation of imagism, which formed the central tenets of the imagist school, scattered about in essays and notes collected in "A Retrospect" (1918), reverses Eliot's emphasis on the subjective imagination by placing the focus of imagination outside the poet, in the landscape itself, where one may find patterns emerging out of the shape of flowers and trees, the recurring shapes of wind and water, and the correspondences between the seasons and the ebb and flow of civilizations. Pound emphasized poetry's need for objectivity, for a language of pure description stripped bare of "emotional slither," his phrase for self-indulgent lyricism. The term imagism suggests poetry's affinity with the art of photography, a link enhanced by a later movement influenced by Pound and codified as the objectivist school, objectivism, with its emphasis on a snapshotlike clarity of vision, control of subject matter, and strict avoidance of discursive writing.
For Pound, poetry is a language of visual perceptions derived from close observation of natural events. Not any image will do for poetry, however. Pound stipulates that the events observed must reveal a relation among things and lead the poet to a larger perception of the presence of form uniting the details into a single, composite entity. The most famous example of this method is in his two-line poem, "In a Station of the Metro" (1913), where he discovers that the faces of a subway commuter crowd resemble the arrangement of petals on a rain-soaked tree branch. In detecting the presence of form in unlikely juxtapositions, the poet is drawn to a larger perception of how certain forms reside in the natural world and are a kind of language. Forms abound and repeat their signatures in any medium or substance, from wind in the trees resembling waves at sea to the overlapping petals of a rose and the patterns of history. His ideas about form and poetry were influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson's transcendental philosophy, which argued that nature was both a physical and a spiritual system of energy and that human consciousness was mirrored in the natural world.
Both Eliot's and Pound's theories of poetry turn on concepts drawn from modern philosophy and science and from vast overarching theories of the unity of culture; their point of opposition is the locus of order and meaning. Eliot is the more conventional theoretician in locating order in the mind alone, a Christian concept, whereas Pound places order in the natural world, aligning his esthetics with the tradition of Greek pre-Socratic pantheism and pagan literature. From these two theories, American poetry evolved along separate courses, one turning inward toward the poet's subjectivity and emotional complexity, the other turning outward to attentive observations of the natural world. Poets coming after found themselves having to choose between a psychological poetry and a poetry that contemplated the divinity of nature.
Louis zukofsky's "Program: 'Objectivists' 1931," which appeared as a brief preface to his anthology of selected poems under that banner in Poetry magazine, uses the word objectivism in two ways—the ordinary meaning of detaching one's emotions from observation, and as a pun on the word objective, the lens by which photographers view the world in magnification. The relation between film and poetry was very rich at that time, with Alfred Steiglitz, an early master of sharp-focus photography, providing visual studies that resembled imagist lyrics in their simplicity and foregrounding of objects. Zukofsky calls attention to the relations among images, allowing the lyric to expand from its focus on one relation to the possibility of the lyric sustaining a sequence of such relations, so long as "form" is perceived to link all of them. George oppen composed such a sequence in discrete series (1934), his experiment with an elongated, more discursive mode of imagist writing.
Zukofsky explores the underlying animist principle behind imagism, wherein matter is treated as if its constituent molecules were possessed of a will to cohere and embrace form. In a later note to his theory, published in a collection of his essays titled Prepositions (1967), he writes:
Good verse is determined by the poet's susceptibility involving a precise awareness of differences, forms, and possibilities of existence—words with their own attractions included. The poet, no less than the scientist, works on the assumption that inert and live things and relations hold enough interest to keep him alive as part of nature. ("Poetry" 7)
While the so-called fugitive or agrarian writers of the same period staked out a position that continued the symbolist mode of lyric begun by Eliot, there are no corresponding statements of a poetic position by any of the members of this circle of southern poets— but a series of textbooks written and coedited by Cleanth Brooks and others argued that poetry's main function was to render the complexities of experience by means of metaphor and to order the relations among events by the conventions of closed rhyming, stanzaic verse. Such writers rejected the notion that form would emerge from the assembled contents alone; form was imposed onto language by the poet's imagination and skill, and it was thus independent of nature. Only by means of human artifice could nature be transformed into art.
In 1950 Charles olson extended the imagist argument a notch further in his essay "Projective Verse." Here he emphasizes the role of the body in composition, with the line length of the poem determined by the poet's "breath" and with the musicality of the language arising from the poet's aural memory of the sounds of nature. Taking Zukofsky a step further, Olson suggests that the poem is a cascade of perceptions unfolding from the meaning of an initial image. To sustain this sequence of perceptions embracing a widening frame of experience requires that the poet abandon self-consciousness altogether to sharpen attention to the surrounding world. In a state of nearly consuming attention to the outside world, the poet will overhear the "secrets objects share."
A self-effacing disposition toward experience is Olson's way of taking the ego away from the center of the act of writing. Events should be recorded as if they were more important than the observer, a notion that was beginning to reshape the approaches in sociology and anthropology, where Western values were thought to have intervened and judged other cultural systems too much, thus distorting their actual natures. "Projective Verse" was perhaps the first assault upon what might be called an imperialist poetics after World War II, the era in which many native cultures were being revived after centuries of European colonization. Olson's objections to European expansion during the last 400 years centered on the imposition of Western values, languages, and atti-tu des onto colonized native people; by declaring himself a descendant of New World culture, an heir to Mayan and Incan art, as he did in his great poem, "The Kingfishers" (1953), he renounced his ties to the European tradition.
More recently, a number of people writing under the general heading of the language school, named after Charles Bernstein's and Bruce andrews's journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, asserted that language should not be "absorptive" but instead resistant to a reader's apprehension in order to rescue poetry from the corruptions of language experienced between the Holo caust and the vietnam War. By disrupting the predictable flow of syntax and narrative sense, the reader is made to confront words as palpable entities rather than as a medium of persuasive fantasies. A similar argument was made by Bernstein against film as the exploitation of violence and cruelty to attract an audience whose exposure to such illusory experience blunts its sensitivity to reality and moral responsibility. Both in his collection of essays, Content's Dream (1986), and in A Poetics (1992), Bernstein states his intent to counter illusion and "absorptive" art by derailing syntax, randomizing diction, and using other devices to shock the reader back to his or her senses and the real world.
others in the movement have explored language as a political construct in which only an official reality is permitted expression through the patterns of normal sentences and paragraphs. By dislocating language from its ordinary logic and syntax, words are liberated from their overused functions and stand out once more as unfamiliar things, as "objects," thrust at the reader in all their complexity and ambiguity of meaning. The language poets wage war against clichés and speech that long ago had been preempted by advertisers and politicians for their own purposes. The restoration of corrupted language is an age-old occupation of poets looking back at the abuse of prior generations; the goal of the Language poets is to liberate language from its entanglement in political and corporate power struggles. These poets equate the freedom of language with the freedom of the individual to think independently and to gain access to the world as it is, not as it is portrayed by those in power. Hence, Clark coolidges observation in his talk "Words": "Whole edifices of philosophy rising and falling on the momentary basis of what one has said" (11).
Coolidge, like Robert creeley before him, has argued that the poet has no foreknowledge of her or his acts as a writer but composes in order to discover the possible meanings underlying her or his attention to surroundings: "I have the sensation that the most honest man in the world is the artist when he is saying I don't know" ("Interview" 37). The predisposition of knowing one's intention means that language will narrowly serve the purpose of proving what one knows;
Language poets would rather allow language its own flow in order to discover hidden alternatives to one's habitual perspective. This open-ended process also agrees with Lyn hejinian's discourse on method, "The Rejection of Closure," in which she specifically objects to the logic that would presume to isolate a strain of thought from its vital connections to the rest of the activities of the thinking self. Her poems are attempts to recreate the multiple tracks of simultaneous thought and sensation that occur in any given moment of consciousness.
Throughout the 20th century, many American poets have been engaged in an effort to distinguish the American lyric from English poetry. Not only are the conventions of the English lyric viewed as belonging to a different cultural experience, rooted in monarchy and a close relation to Christian sacred literature, but the literature itself is the record of a single race that looks back to Rome and Athens for its legacy. As Walt Whitman argued in his own statement of poetics in the preface to Leaves of Grass (1855), the diverse racial makeup of America demands a more varied language embracing the many strains of ethnic consciousness in America's story. Other poets have argued that the American Indian origins of the New World must also be taken into account. Each attempt at restating the goals of American poetry widens the boundaries of what is possible and chafes against the restraints that habit and cultural norms impose upon the freedom of the poet.
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