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Distortion, Abstraction, and Originality in Contemporary American Poetry


Mark Irwin

Monster: Distortion, Abstraction, and Originality in Contemporary American Poetry argues that memorable and resonant poetry often distorts form, image, concept, and notions of truth and metaphor. Discussing how changes in electronic communication and artificial notions of landscape have impacted form and content in poetry, Monster redefines the idea of what is memorable and original through a broad range of poets including John Ashbery, Anne Carson, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Forrest Gander, Peter Gizzi, Jorie Graham, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Laura Kasischke, W. S. Merwin, Srikanth Reddy, Donald Revell, Mary Ruefle, Arthur Sze, and James Tate.

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Distortion & Disjunction in Contemporary American Poetry


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In an age where technological distraction seems to have reached its height through the use of computers, email, cell phones, text messaging, TV, and video games, both public and private attention seems drastically reduced, and as a result artists have begun to change the manner in which they view temporal and spatial subject matter. More and more poems, for example, often appear as blocks of prose with justified margins resembling those of electronic messaging. Since at any time a vast array of information, products, or art can be summoned instantaneously, we have all become rulers and ambassadors of virtual space. One recalls Hamlet’s retort to Rosencrantz in Act II of the tragedy when the prince feels that all Denmark has become a prison: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams” (Shakespeare 35).

Thinking makes a prison for Hamlet, and in a similar manner, intellect and perception can become a prison for the artist if it doesn’t continue to change (as technology does). Granted such temporal and spatial freedoms, it seems only natural that contemporary artists would violate borders not only to assimilate a new reality, but through further distortion to uncover new truths and perhaps some beauty from what often appears grotesque in contemporary society.

In the visual arts Willem de Kooning’s series of paintings entitled Woman, from the early fifties, is one of the...

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