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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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Poetry, Reality, & Place in a Placeless World of Global Communication


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In our contemporary world, as sometimes in our poetry, it becomes more and more difficult to arrive unexpected. Often our electronic devices of location (cellphones, tablets, computers), with their omniscient accessibility, impede our subjectivity in the sense of an “ability to get lost.” Today’s place-wary travelers will let you know when they are a mile away, a block away, or walking up your front steps. These trekkers like being tracked.

Getting lost has been the impetus of much enduring poetry from Dante’s Inferno through the works of Dickinson (“I felt a Funeral in my Brain”), Rimbaud (“The Drunken Boat”), Bishop, (“The Art of Losing”), and Frost (“Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening”), just to name a few. Certainly one can get lost on a Google search just as earlier readers got lost in a card catalogue, but really getting lost is an act of the imagination, one that redefines reality, often through moral implications.—A secret rage for disorder, rebellion. Here’s the opening of Arthur Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat”:

As I was going down wild Rivers

I lost guide of my deck hands.

Yelping Indians had targeted and nailed

Their naked bodies to colored stakes. ← 23 | 24 →

I cared little for any crew, whether those

Of Flemish wheat or English cottons.

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