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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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Origin, Presence, & Time in the Poetry of W. S. Merwin


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The keen sense of origin in W. S. Merwin’s poetry, especially in the later work after his move to Hawaii, is and has always been linked to absence, that “paradise” where things continually vanish from human time. It is the notion of presence, however, closely linked with absence, which provides the all-at-onceness of the senses in Merwin’s work and thus creates paradox. The poet comments on this in a recent interview:

The more present you try to make the moment, the more absent it becomes, although it becomes something you can deal with. The present is something that you can’t get closer to, and yet that’s what you’re trying to do with speech—you’re trying to embody the present and pass it on at the same time. (Weinert 4)

One hears this echo in the collection Present Company, especially in “To Absence,” the poet’s invocation to loss and the resurrection of the present through memory. Addressing concepts, persons, or things, all the poems in the collection employ personification. “To Absence” begins with the line “Raw shore of paradise” and asks “what good to you” are those things treasured beyond “words or number” that are held forever in an “unmapped imperium”? Creating a temporal boundary between the present and the past, and also a conceptual boundary between presence and absence, the poem addresses absence as a kind of treasure ← 129 | 130 → palace where people, things, places, and time are lost. Merwin’s obsession with the...

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