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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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Preface

Extract

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Monster, taking its title from Alfred Jarry’s remark, “I call Monster all original and inexhaustible beauty,” explores abstraction through spatial, temporal, and conceptual distortion and disjunction in contemporary American poetry, and references both contemporary American and European art as it argues that memorable and resonant poetry often distorts space, time, idea, image, and notions of truth and metaphor. Discussing how artificial notions of landscape and changes in technology have impacted form and content in poetry, I hope to redefine the idea of what is memorable and original. Originality occurs both formally and abstractly; I hope to illumine those aspects through five different notions in the essay “Poetry and Originality: ‘Have you been here before?’” I also discuss specific notions of abstraction in poetry through the lens of three archetypal figures in the book’s final chapter: “Orpheus, Parzival, & Bartleby: Ways of Abstraction in Poetry.”

Disjunction (what I would call different planes of consciousness and meaning) and distortion have long been present in poetry. Distortion, a physical manipulation that’s more apparent in visual art, often gives way to disjunction. We find disjunction through physical absence in Pre-Socratic fragments, and through metamorphosis and dislocation in Homer’s The Odyssey and Dante’s The Inferno. More commonly we expect disjunction in works from Dickinson, Eliot, Ashbery, Anne Carson, W. S. Merwin, and Jorie Graham, just to name a few. In Book ← xv | xvi → IX of The Odyssey when Odysseus tells Polyphemus that his name is “Nobody,” and later when...

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