Few poets have been as adamant about the uselessness of their art in the face of history as American poet George Oppen (1908–1984), and yet, few poets have been as viscerally convinced of the important role of the poem in restoring meaning to our words. Oppen came to maturity between two world wars, at the time of the Depression, and gave up poetry just when he had embraced it. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, his new work seemed to many poets and critics to represent the epitome of poetic virtue in dark times. Whereas Oppen wrote of the lost sense of the commonplace, his readers found in his poetry the means to reclaim the poet’s role within the community.
George Oppen’s Poetics of the Commonplace offers the first survey of the critical consensus which has now built up around the poetry of George Oppen, after over two decades of substantial interest in his work. It proposes a comprehensive perspective on Oppen and the criticism devoted to Oppen, from the Objectivist strain in American poetry to the thinkers, such as Heidegger, Levinas, Marx and Adorno, which critics have brought to bear on Oppen’s poetry, to pave the way for the consideration and exemplification of a new methodology which sheds a critical light on the ideas and practices in contemporary poetics, through well-researched close readings.