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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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Orpheus, Parzival, & Bartleby: Ways of Abstraction in Poetry


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A rather odd round table, to say the least, one in which words would be chosen carefully, if at all, and I suspect that a great deal of silence would prevail, depending of course at what point in his fateful relationship with Eurydice we find Orpheus, that shaman figure and singer-prophet, “a lyrist of such magnificent seductive force that all nature, animate and inanimate, was subdued by and followed him” (Strauss 5).

Yet rather than dwell on that phase of Orpheus’ life when through the power of song he charmed beasts, made rocks move, and trees bow down, one is usually more interested in Orpheus’ ascent from the underworld, especially at that moment when he turns toward Eurydice, that moment when leading her, he becomes the poem, the poem that will vanish into itself. Maurice Blanchot captures this fleeting evaporative effect through the repetition of lilting vowels: “Orphée nous entraine et il nous attire vers le point où lui-même, le poème éternel, entre dans sa propre disparition” (L’espace litteraire 207). (“Orpheus draws and attracts us toward the point where he himself, the eternal poem, enters into its own vanishing.”) This is the great moment of abstraction through the risk of the impossible, the no-turning, forever-turning back, frozen in the beauty and awkwardness of impatience leading desire. This moment, along with Orpheus’ dismemberment (the mutilated head continues to sing as it floats down the river ← 169 | 170 → Hebros), provide metaphors for abstraction through...

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