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Monster

Distortion, Abstraction, and Originality in Contemporary American Poetry

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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 & Originality: “Have you been there before?”

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In autumn of 2008 I attended a wonderful lecture given by Robert Wilson, the internationally known avant-garde stage director and playwright. His performance/talk that evening was entitled: “1. Have you been there before? 2. No this is the first time.” The title question of Wilson’s lecture is central to the idea of originality in all the arts, and one I believe that artists need to keep asking themselves during the creation process.

1 The Imagination as Undefined Truth

As a child I could pour my attention over a map for hours, especially road maps where routes became scarce and meandered through mountainous terrain. I imagined specific mountains, their gradients of elevation, the different types of trees, and the shoreline and depth of each lake. Once older, I discovered that I preferred more primitive maps, especially those first ones made of the western states where so much is left out, for here I had to imagine even more and fill the empty space and silences. These maps seemed more beautiful due to their undefined truths.

Reason often impedes art, whether it is one of predetermined form or content. “Reason forgets; the imagination never,” Peter Handke tells us in his novel Slow Homecoming. Knowledge too can impede the artist, often blocking the ← 107 | 108 → subconscious. Donald Barthelme addresses this issue in his essay “Not-Knowing,” as he discusses plot:

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