Poets’ First and Last Books in Dialogue

by Thomas Simmons (Author)
©2012 Monographs XV, 165 Pages
Series: Studies in Modern Poetry, Volume 17


A poet’s œuvre is typically studied as an arc from the first work to the last work, including everything in between as a manifestation of some advance or reversal. What if the primary relationship in a poet’s œuvre is actually between the first and last text, with those two texts sharing a compelling private language? What if, read separately from the other work, the first and last books reveal some new phenomenon about both the struggles and the achievement of the poet?
Drawing on phenomenological and intertextual theories from Ladislaus Boros, Julia Kristeva, Theodor Adorno, and Peter Galison, Poets’ First and Last Books in Dialogue examines the relevant texts of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Sexton, Thom Gunn, Sylvia Plath, and Ted Hughes. In each of these poets’ first books, Thomas Simmons examines both the evidence of some new phenomenon and a limit or unsolved problem that finds its resolution only in a specific conversation with the final text. By placing the texts in dialogue, Simmons unveils a new internal language in the work of these groundbreaking poets. The character of this illumination expands in a coda on Robert Pinsky, whose career is particularly marked by what neurologist Antonio Damasio calls the moment of «stepping into the light.»


XV, 165
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2012 (March)
phenomenon achievement conversation
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2012. XVI, 165 pp.

Biographical notes

Thomas Simmons (Author)

Thomas Simmons is Associate Professor of English at the University of Iowa, where he has taught since 1992. After completing his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, he taught in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received the Everett Moore Baker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. He has also taught at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. His six previous books include The Unseen Shore: Memories of a Christian Science Childhood; A Season in the Air: One Man’s Adventures in Flying; Erotic Reckonings: Mastery and Apprenticeship in the Work of Poets and Lovers; Ghost Man: Reflections on Evolution, Love, and Loss; The Burning Child: Essays on Mental Health and Illness; and Imperial Affliction: Eighteenth-Century British Poets and Their Twentieth-Century Lives (Lang, 2010).


Title: Poets’ First and Last Books in Dialogue