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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 & Memorability


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“The artist’s task,” according to Kafka, “is to lead the isolated individual into the infinite life.” Certainly that would be an attribute to the memorable—but what else? In his essay “On the Origin of the Work of Art,” Heidegger argues that art, in its origin, is a way in which truth comes into being. He says in essence that the function of art is “to push being out of forgetfulness.” For this notion he returns to the ancient Greek word “aletheia”: a (apart from); Lethe (the river of forgetfulness). In classical antiquity after people died they first had to cross the river of forgetfulness. According to Heidegger, art occurs at a phenomenal opening in which there is both concealing and revealing.

The tension that occurs as the work of art comes into being might be best understood as mystery. Keats says in a letter to John Taylor that “Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a Remembrance.” W. S. Merwin on the other hand suggests that original poetry might be likened “to an unduplicatable resonance, something that would be like an echo except that it is repeating no sound” (Naked Poetry 271). Memorable works of art should seem finished to the eye, but unfinished to the mind and heart. Their closure, or lack of it, hopefully creates openings. This in fact echoes one of Kant’s criteria for the sublime: it is “to be found...

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