Scholarly article on topic '7 * Poetics'

7 * Poetics Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Academic research paper on topic "7 * Poetics"

Poetics

NERYS WILLIAMS

This chapter presents an overview of current discussions regarding the conceptualization of poetics primarily in twentieth- and twenty-first-century poetries. Covering criticism received during 2009, an overview is provided of the following: debates concerning ideas of global English and poetics; the proliferation of a 'hemispheric' American poetics; ideas of migrant life and poetic 'dislocation'; readings of the impact of the orient and Orientalism on American poetics; as well as considerations of the relationship between poetry, community and social relations. Issues of poetic technique and form come to the fore in critical reflections on ideas of poetic 'difficulty' or 'obscurity', and what indeed 'poetic thinking' or 'inspiration' may entail. The chapter introduces a critical reconvening or re-reading of Objectivist poetries in tandem with modernist poetry and a reflection on poetics that is formed from a combination of memoir, interview and prose poetry.

Almost three hundred years after Goethe proposed the idea of Weltliteratur (1827)—or a world literature—debates proliferate on how to respond to the impact of English upon the perception of national literatures. Recent criticism's fascination with establishing an aesthetic for a post-national literature is evident in Jahan Ramazani's A Transnational Poetics. Ramazani terms a transnational literature: 'a nation-crossing force that exceeds the limits of the territorial and judicial norm' (p. 2) and asserts that 'The spread of English worldwide to its use by nearly a third of the world's population' (p. 19). He crucially reminds his readers that this dissemination is 'rooted in the might of the British Empire and has been perpetuated by the military and economic power of the United States' (p. 19). Considering the future of English literary studies, Ramazani proposes:

Literary criticism on English—and other imperial-language literatures, must co-exist with studies of writing in local and regional languages of the global South. Even so, one way to complicate an

The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory, 19 © The Author (2011)

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doi:10.1093/ywcct/mbr007

imperial 'Anglophony' from within criticism of English-language poetry is to explore the multiplicity of Englishes in which poetry is written, some of which, such as the Jamaican Creole of Claude McKay, Louise Bennett and Linton Kwesi Johnson, was once seen as unworthy of poetry. Another is to widen the geographic scope of anglophone poetry studies, so that poems from the United States, Britain and Ireland are read alongside poetries from English-speaking dominions, territories and ex-colonies. (p. 19)

Ramazani's key study moves the contemporary critic away from tightly defined and contained definitions of national literatures, and promotes instead the adaptation of English across countries and cultures. Key to Ramazani's identifications are the practices of creolization and hybridization, which he reads not only as essential to the 'formal advancement or the growth of discrete national poetries', but as 'cross-cultural dynamics ... among the engines of modern and contemporary poetic development and innovation' (p. 3). However, Ramazani's transnational poetics does not advocate a vapid idea of a global aesthetic, as we are reminded that given the complex nature of current poetic practice 'the homogenizing model of globalization is inadequate for the analysis of specifically poetic transnationalism' (p. 8). While I do not hold completely with Ramazani's opening position in his Transnational Poetries that 'Poetry is more often seen as local, regional or stubbornly national' (p. 3), I do find myself receptive to his description of cross-fertilization between different poetries as creating an energizing force field:

Because poetic compression demands that discrepant idioms and soundscapes, tropes and subgenres be forces together with intensity, poetry—pressured and fractured by this convergence—allows us to examine at close hand how global modernity's cross cultural vectors sometimes fuse sometimes vertiginously counterpoint one another.

(p. 4)

Romana Huk's timely article 'A New Global Poetics?' (Literature Compass 6:iii[2009] 758—84) presents a slightly less enthusiastic perspective on the concept of a global poetics. Huk notes: 'There are very few conversations that escape the g words global, globalization' (p. 758). Mostly associated with actions in 'market trading, corporate finance, mass media and the political negotiations' (p. 758), Huk questions what such processes might mean for literary studies. Distinguishing between 'global' and 'globalization', she suggests that the former indicates 'an already-existing state of things'

whereas the latter indicates 'a process that's been inaugurated, a condition we're constructing' (p. 762). The utopian image inscribed at the heart of the proponents of a new global poetics raises key problems for Huk. For her, terms such as 'cross-cultural' and 'transnational' retain 'at least some traces of writing's sitedness and specific historied movements over borders' (p. 770). Huk is far more suspicious of terms such as 'Americas', 'world' and 'global', since these poetics correspondingly 'permit no intra-national, national or discreet group identifications or projects aside from the largest impossible ones' (p. 770). Central to Huk is what is lost in these larger totalities, she probes 'What gets elided in these constructions of negative totality . . . [i]n other words what have we got to lose (both in the possessive and imperative sense of that phrase)? Or perhaps what do we want to lose?' (p. 770).

The intersection of literary poetics and global economies are of key importance to Justin Read's Modern Poetics and Hemispheric America Cultural Studies. In his Preface, Read considers the growth of what he calls 'Hemispheric, Inter-Indian cultural studies' (p. xiii), which he sees as an alternative to American Studies that often found itself in the past occupied with US culture. Read proposes that American Studies in the US academy 'was understood to mean ''US Studies'' only, and even its decidedly ''Anglo'' bent often did not include English-speaking Canada or the Caribbean' (p. xiii). Remarking on the recent internationalization of American Studies, Read comments that a similar momentum is evident in Latin American Studies and reflects that the 'transformation in both fields has been one form a state of relative closure, in which geo-cultural regions were thought to be unique, exceptional, and/or special to one of relative openness, in which connections, migrations and exchanges between Anglo and Latin, North and South assume primary critical importance' (p. xv). It is no accident that the growth of hemispheric American Studies is closely allied to the Latinization of Anglo American culture and the recent Anglicization of Latin America culture is derived from 'the political economic integration of the Americas though globalized free trade' (p. xvi) .The key question posed by the book is following the integrated Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, 'how do we avoid creating a homogenized Free Trade Agreement of Hemispheric American Cultural Studies?' (p. xvi).

Read continues by mapping the four essential, if vast, questions that form the basis of his enquiry. He asks what the following might mean: 'American', 'American Culture', 'American Language' and, finally, 'An American Subject'. Read views America as a construct that came into being through actions of migration and encounter. America also 'simultaneously exists only

in modern historical time (post 1492), and is therefore cut off from any historical origin' (p. xxii). Building on the premise of America as a construct of migration and encounter, American culture is for Read 'always a matter of cultural translation' (p. xxii). Equally, he questions whether such a thing as an American language exists, since the language of the Americas is 'translation itself' (p. xxiii). The American subject accordingly defies finite categorization and needs to be understood as the 'relation in-between subjects and objects' (p. xxiv). The American subject is likewise 'never reconciled to history, or to itself, but it is always migrating between cultures and histories' (p. xxiv). Divided into four chapters, Read considers the work of William Carlos Williams, Mario de Andrade, Vicente Huidobro and Ezra Pound.

Read's discussion presents the modern poem as a work that demands a contextual process and American itself as a 'modern historical process' (p. xxv). In considering Williams' Spring and All, he focuses on what he calls the 'hemispheric possibilities' that emerge from this hybrid work, given its movement between prose and poetry. With a comparative reading of the Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade, he seeks to show how Spring and All requires 'Latin American dependency theory to be properly understood' (p. xxvi). Reflecting on Williams' volume as a whole, Read suggests that a political reading is imperative and that he can no longer be read simply as a poet of American idiom. He proposes that Spring and All demands to be read 'in the context of migration from states-of-scarcity to states-of-abundance, migration marked by violent social antagonism' which as he sees it mark also 'the fundamental movement of the American hemisphere' (p. 57).

Focusing on Latin American texts and cultures in chapters two and three, Read considers Brazilian writer Mario de Andrade's 'harmonic verse' (p. xxvi) as well as Chilean poet Vicente Huidovro's epic Altazor. A central preoccupation is the impact of the modern aesthetic upon the construction of both works. Read views both as providing 'through irony, plagiarism, or parody—constructions of the nation that tend to undermine dominant national ideologies of American nationhood' (p. 107). Closing on a reading of the Americanism of Pound's Cantos and the poet's attempt to create an 'ethical-Political-economic' through the writings of Confucius and John Adam, Read shows how Pound's ethics 'only emerges from a transcultural and translational encounter between China and the United States, always framed in relation to modern European culture' (p. xxvii). Informed by Latin American (particularly Haroldo de Campos' 'cannibalistic' translations), the discussion seeks to highlight the conflicts and contradictions of the Cantos. Reid's criticism of Pound is forthright, he impresses upon us that

'the Americanism of the Cantos occurs in its refutation of authorship, authority and authoritarianism, even as the work asserts all these things in its focalization of US-American History' (p. xxvii). I was particularly seduced by the erudite phrasing that closes the work where Read reflects upon the relationship mediated between poetics and processes of the global: 'If globalization seeks an integrated map of the Americas, poetry responds by showing this to be a remapping. If globalization seeks a language to give this remapping meaning, poetry responds by speaking the language of translation' (p. 195).

The experience of migration informs the movement and texture of Meena Alexander's Poetics of Dislocation. Written as part of the University of Michigan's Poets on Poetry series (whose list include Laura Riding, John Ashbery and John Yau amidst many others), the volume collects essays on poets and poetics as well as interviews under a loose rubric of 'dislocation'. The volume is divided into five sections: 'Poetry and Place'; 'Picturing Sense'; 'Migrant Memory'; 'Poetics of Dislocation'; and 'In Conversation'. In the long opening essay 'Home Ground and Borderlands', Alexander cites Caribbean poet Edourard Glissant's Poetics of Relation, focusing on the impressions of simultaneity that migration creates. Glissant writes of 'his continuous/discontinuous thing: the panic of the new land, the haunting of the former land' (p. 4). Alexander comments that for Glissant 'even as errantry, the migrant possibility of existence, is foremost the notion of relation as he spells it out gathers power. It implies not foreignness, not what is rendered Other, but rather what is shared and as such can enter into the intricate exchanges of self-identity and the making of poetry' (p. 4). The essay includes references to an extensive compendium of poets, which include Seamus Heaney, Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali, A.K. Ramanujan, Sri Lankan poet Jean Arasanayagam, performance artist Anna Deveare Smith, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Joy Harjo, Gloria Anzaldtia, Yusef Komunyakaa, Natasha Trethewey, Nathaniel Mackey and Myung Mi Kim. Early in the volume Alexander asks, citing Deleuze and Guattari, 'what happens when the internal map of place is torn, when what we are faced with are not fixed settlements but pinhole scatterings, dismemberments, a ''line of flight''' (pp. 6—7). She then resolves that poets are faced 'with at least two ways of touching the past' (p. 7). One, she suggests, 'ties us with silken bonds to the densities of ordinary life' while the other 'chops and scatters out identity in the air, bits and pieces capable of ceaseless rearrangement' (p. 7). The intersection of poetics and daily life is made evident in her declaration that: 'In our lives, as in our poems, we need to play both rhythms, stitch ourselves into history through two kinds of music' (p. 7).

Using a combination of memoir, criticism, interview, reflection and prose poetry, the volume interrogates the places made or constructed by a poetics. In the volume there are meditations on the poetry of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Wordsworth. A provocative short review of Jayanta Mahapatra's poetry entitled 'Poetry of Decreation' reads as a manifesto essay from Alexander. Quoting Simone Weil, she explains what a process of decreation might mean for poetics:

The great French religious thinker has spoken of decreation as a certain quality of attention, an emptying out of the self, an almost mystical waiting. She argues that it requires giving up 'our imaginary position as the center, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of the soul'. Annihilation of what we normally call identity, a position at the center of space, works a change in the very quality of perception. (p. 70)

Near the close of the volume, the lyrical essay 'Poetics of Dislocation' considers the spaces of writing. The speaker of the prose essay 'Writing Space' considers the often uncomfortable patterns of mobility that inform the processes of writing: 'A migrant life lived through continents, across waterways and islands creates the space where I write—a space that infolds memory, marking whorl upon whorl of time, mutating palimpsest I have learned to reckon with' (p. 177). Alexander concludes 'Writing Space' with an affirmation of the luminal, the in-between positions of migrant life:

This day-to-day life is scored by the burden of discrepant nationalisms, fevered ethnicities. But it is here and nowhere else that the invisible life goes on, the life of dream and imagination. (p. 177)

The intriguingly entitled Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance by Daniel Tiffany, with its discussion of lyric and poetic 'obscurity', challenges our perceptions of the relationship between poetry, community and social relations. For some time there has been an emphasis upon the need for establishing discursiveness in contemporary lyric language. One has only to consider Robert Pinsky's early appeal for a 'discursive' lyric that presents 'the poet talking, predicating, moving directly and as systematically and unaffectedly as he would walk from one place to another'. Later in the mid-nineties there was Bob Perelman's pronouncement 'disjunction and opacity are getting a little long in the tooth; try connectedness' as he observed that 'one could note a decrease in fragmentation, and an increase in complete sentences and discernible narrative structures or gestures in the recent work of language writers'. More recently there has been Juliana's

Spahr's ambition to create 'poems dealing with the complex questions of how to talk to one another. More poems that acknowledge how difficult that is. More poems that look outward.' Tiffany's book inverts our associations of hermeticism with a failure to communicate. He states in his Introduction that 'I want to emphasize that my analysis of the poetics of obscurity should not be viewed a defense of obscurantism, or an apology for ''difficult'' poetry (in contrast to the plain style)' (p. 2). Instead, he suggests that 'Obscurity in poetry is a matter disclosed upon reception' and is 'not something intrinsic to particular properties of the verbal artifact' (p. 2). Tiffany is sceptical of gestures towards discursiveness and clarity as a means of enabling poetry to present itself as 'more directly meaningful to social and political realities' (p. 3). He states that:

Even the most programmatic and highly politicized campaigns have made little progress, however, in establishing the social relevance of poetry or in revising the tastes of the dominant literary tradition (even advocates of that plain style), which still presumes a measure of obscurity in poetic composition. (p. 3)

Tiffany argues that in modernist practice, lyric obscurity has mainly been read as synonymous with terms such as 'difficulty', a condition that is always 'susceptible, in principle to the restoration of meaning' (p. 6). Approaches or methodologies he cites as used to render the poem 'intelligible' include psychoanalysis and cryptography. In this work, Tiffany desires to highlight 'those effects which might help us to account for obscurity, not simply as a failure of meaning, but as a productive phenomenon in its own right' (p. 6). For him the proposition of a poetics of obscurity is not ring fenced to an association purely with 'arcane', 'deliberately experimental' or 'virtuosic' verse (p. 8). Included within a poetics of obscurity would be the misunderstanding of demotic speech, and Tiffany gestures towards those poems that move lyricism away from an 'elite culture' to poems 'composed in slang, jargon and dialect' (p. 8). A key concern of the volume is to affirm how lyric obscurity can also be read as linked to social identities. Tiffany cites from the Oxford English Dictionary that the term obscure means 'of persons, their station, descent etc. Not illustrious or noted; unknown to fame; humble, lowly' (p. 19). Placed in this context, poems of lyric obscurity can also be traced to what he terms 'infidel forms' that may include riddles, thieves' carols, beggars' chants.

The expansive range of material and creative approaches in this volume is impressive, and Tiffany manages to reconvene lyric material away from stultifying codes of difficulty. Poets included range from Mallarmea and

nursery rhymes, to Jorie Graham and Emily Dickinson. One particularly exciting chapter, entitled 'Flash Crib: A Genealogy of Modern Nightlife', considers the poetry of bawdiness and taverns in conjunction with the social formations of nightclubs, canting speech, the philosophes of Grub Street, as well as the underworlds of Byron and Shelley. Infidel Poetics attempts in brief to interpret a certain political and social premise to lyric obscurity, moving it beyond a poetics of mere hermeticism. Tiffany states in his Afterword that:

When lyric obscurity, or even logical obscurity, is understood to be consistent with the expressive powers of ordinary language, then expression guarantees the radiant properties of obscurity: the coherence of any verbal code (whether shadowy jargon or national language) coincides like the Janusian aspect of a riddle, with the obscurity of its medium. (p. 232)

The publication in 2007 of George Oppen's Selected, Prose Daybooks and Papers (UCalP) by Stephen Cope and Peter Nicholls' book-length study George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism (OUP) has prepared the ground for a major collection of essays on the poet. Thinking Poetics: Essays on George Oppen, edited by Steve Shoemaker, collects fifteen essays by poet-practitioners and critical thinkers. The collection serves as a compendium of many previously published essays and presents Oppen's poetry through five key categorizations: 'Working Papers/The Mind Thinking', 'On Discrete Series', 'Among the Philosophers', 'Two Wars' and the more general 'Receptions'. There are contributions by well-established poet-critics, including Lyn Hejinian, Forrest Gander, Kristin Prevallet, Ron Silliman, John Taggart, Theodore Enslin, Charles Bernstein and, of course, Rachel Blau du Plessis (who has written extensively on Oppen). The sheer prevalence of the poet-critics within this collection of essays—at my count fourteen out of the fifteen contributions—tells us something about the process of bringing to light Oppen's work, after many years of being overlooked by the academy. Shoemaker notes that in spite of Oppen being a founding member of the Objectivist movement and winning the Pulitzer prize for Of Being Numerous in 1969, his poetry is 'still curiously neglected in academic circles' (p. 1). The publication of Michael Davidson's edition of Oppen's New Collected Poems (New Directions Press [2002]), Robert Creeley's new presentation of Oppen's Selected Poems (New Directions Press [2003]) and the inclusion of Oppen's poetry in the latest edition of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry are seen as landmark events in the circulation and reception of the poet's work. Central to this collection is the desire to illustrate how Oppen's poetry displays the thinking mind and the

relationship of the poet to society. Shoemaker suggests that 'Like Proust, George Oppen is a writer who participates in the modernist revolution of the Mind; that is, he writes in an age when the mind itself has become the pre-eminent object of contemplation, even as he also maintains, an unwavering commitment to the existence of the world outside the mind' (p. 4).

Given her own focus on poetry as a 'language of inquiry' it is not surprising to see an essay in Thinking Poetics by Lyn Hejinian. Her 'Preliminary to a Close Reading of George Oppen's Discrete Series' draws attention to the materials that influenced the writing of Oppen's Discrete Series, often referencing the poet's letters. Her citing of Oppen's reflections on the impact of Henry James is most enlightening: 'I argued, shortly after Discrete was printed, that James and not Hemingway was the useful model for ''proletarian'' writers—and realized, in the ensuing discussion, if one could call it a discussion, that I must stay away from left-wing ''cultural workers''' (p. 48). Usefully, Hejinian draws a connection between Oppen's fascination with Jamesian boredom and poetic inspiration. She proposes that for Oppen 'Boredom, then serves as even more than the hospitable condition for the exercise of a complex form of 'negative capability'. Reflecting on Discrete Series, she adds that boredom is 'a temporal condition, and therefore as a linking condition, albeit and paradoxically in the form of an extended discontinuity, that boredom us of particular and detailed interest to Oppen (and to us) at the opening stage of his series' (pp. 50—1). Considering the relationship between Ezra Pound's Imagism and Oppen's Discrete Series, she notes: 'Oppen seems to have found the temporal dimension of the Poundian image adequate only up to a point' (p. 57). Pound's famous dictum of an image as 'that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time' is seen as inadequate to the Objectivist poet. Hejinian proposes that for him 'that instant is an indexical event, and like the light that features so prominently in Discrete Series, it functions not as a container but as an action whose movements discover (or create) events' (p. 57).

Focusing on the relationship of the poem to the social sphere, Shoemaker's essay 'Discrete Series and the Posthuman City' presents a compelling reading of Oppen's engagement with the cityscape of modernity. Shoemaker argues that Oppen's Discrete Series signals an evolution from early modernist poetry's engagement with the 'slickness of the modern environment with its pervasive machined surfaces' that were designed 'to facilitate speedy acts of perception/consumption, the dazzled and deflected eye turning continually to the next surface' (p. 62). Instead, he proposes that Oppen developed a poetry of 'density and resistance—of arduous

appearances, strange absences and unexpected interpositions' that, by contrast, slowed down and 'thicken[ed] the act of perception in order to achieve what Oppen would call ''disclosure''' (pp. 62—3). Drawing from Katherine Hayles' construction of the 'posthuman', this essay reflects upon how Oppen can create works which subject the modern landscape to acts of 'dis/closure' (p. 63) to reveal 'a technologically and socially constructed ''reality'' placing great demands on human adaptivity' (p. 63). Key to Shoemaker's reading of Discrete Series is his focus on the relation between physical surface, object or machine and human body. He comments that the series often presents 'a technomorphic interpenetration or entanglement of human and machine, flesh and steel' (p. 64). Resonant with Hejinian's reading, Shoemaker comments on how Oppen seeks to portray the patterns of everyday existence, dwelling on the 'boring domain of everyday responses', and moving us outside of the 'conventionally lyrical' (p. 70). Importantly, he stresses that Objectivist poetics and engagement with modernity 'moved beyond the modernist focus on brute power and speed' (p. 74). For Oppen, unlike the Futurists, 'the modern artefact is never a ''pure signifier''' since it is always for the poet 'stubbornly embodied, stuck in a nexus of social and material relations' (p. 75). Buildings in these poems are 'literally shaped by corporate money' (p. 75).

There is, of course, far more to be mined from this collection, for example Nicholls' research into the relationship between Oppen and Heidegger—in particular, how terms such as 'encounter', 'disclosure' 'world and 'occurrence' are framed in Oppen's poetics. According to Nicholls, poetic thinking in Oppen's poetry 'is not a matter of articulating a thought already had, but rather of deploying the resources of writing to disclose the texture of thinking as it takes shape' (p. 100). One might also want to gesture to the John Lowney's consideration of Oppen's Of Being Numerous and the Vietnam War, or the final section's important considerations of how Oppen's poetry was initially received, as well as re-readings of Objectivist poetics near the close of the twentieth century.

Sharing a similar preoccupation with concepts of poetic thinking, Christopher Kelen asserts that 'Consciousness is—like poetry—a floating signifier, a term of wider reference, and with a range of implications in the various disciplinary contexts in which it finds currency' (p. 17). The title of his study in poetics, Poetry, Consciousness and Community might at first seem overwhelmingly vast, even intractable. But Kelen skillfully sutures together essays on poetry and writing, ranging from Freud's hypotheses on day dreaming and Julia Kristeva's Revolution in Poetic Language to cornerstone essays by poets such as Alexander Pope's ruminations on the everyday and

John Keats' reflections on 'negative capability'. The range of Kelen's reference is impressive; his discussion may gesture to Mallarme, Blake or C. Day Lewis within a couple of pages. He also combines his considerations of philosophical discourse and poetics in tandem with close readings of a range of individual poets, for example Gary Snyder, William Wordsworth, Osip Mandelstam, Archibald MacLeish, Miklos Radnoti or Sendor Weores.

Initially, Kelen examines whether we can consider consciousness in poetry as a 'state or process or both' (p. 22). He analyses the interrelationship between acute awareness and lack of awareness as key to poetic activity. Reflecting on poetic language, Kelen suggests that because 'language is partly a conscious and partly an unconscious activity and because the language of literary art has the same—partly conscious, partly unconscious—substance as everyday speech and as other (non-literary) forms of writing, we have no choice but to see these as contiguous parts of a single abstracted entity, as much formed by as deforming the individual' (p. 24). Later in the opening chapter he asks 'How does poetry understand its own process?' (p. 27). Kelen indicates that self-awareness in poetry may be crucial to understanding poetic consciousness, since he proposes that 'If the problem of consciousness for poetry is one of meta-awareness, it is equally the case that poetic consciousness is thought to at least partly involve other than normative states of mind' (p. 34). The broad term of poetic 'community' is given in this work as providing something more that the more basic interpretation of individual readership, or what Kelen points to as an 'intersubjective circuit, minimally of poet and reader' (p. 151). Refuting such a basic definition, he constructs the formation of community in terms of expulsion or exile, doubting, outcast, migrancy and contingency. Indeed, at the close of the work, Kelen suggests that ideas of community must always be provisional and in process: 'Community is in the conversation on the way, in the fact of being on the way, in the fact of my foreignness as a traveller' (p. 186).

Over the years, Jed Rasula's criticism has offered a spirited and provocative account of contemporary American poetics. One has only to consider his early compendium of critical readings and appendices in the mammoth The American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects 1940—1990 (National Council of Teachers [1996]). More recently, there has been the publication of This Compost: Ecological Concerns in American Poetry (DukeUP [2002]) and Syncopations: The Stress of Innovation in Contemporary Poetry (UAlaP [2004]). His latest book, Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth, tackles ideas of the muse during the last one hundred and fifty years. Rasula's Introduction is refreshingly candid as he confesses that: 'To speak about the Muse in the 21st Century is tantamount to admitting a paradox,

which is that poetry persists despite its attachment to what must seem a disabling anachronism' (p. 1). The book is divided into six chapters: 'The Murmur: Modernist Alchemies of the Word'; 'Drawing a Blank: Episodes in the Poetics of Unworking'; 'Poetry's Voice Over: Techniques of Inspiration'; 'Gendering the Muse'; 'Medusa's Gaze: Deep Image, or Travelling in the Dark'; and, finally, '''When the Mind is Like a Hall'': Places of a Possible Poetics'.

Initially, Rasula introduces his condition of modern poetics as a literary transfiguration through the following textures of writing, traits and ambitions:

(1) Plain speech and the modernizing of diction and vocabulary;

(2) generic openness and indeterminacy; (3) typographic and orthographic opportunity; (4) infusions of prose order and prose standards; (5) linguistic nationalism; (6) programs of emancipation; including political agitation as well as the cultural avant-garde; (7) strategies of defamiliarization as modernizing means (8) a rising culture of individualism (9) the affirmation of the sacred mission of poetry. (p. 3)

Borrowing form Pound, Rasula places an emphasis on the creation of the modern text as work or 'labor', but adds provocatively that while the 'new might seem to pour down effortlessly from the abundant conduits of modernity' a different form of 'sapience was required for the poet to actually inaugurate the vita nuora of a renovated poetic domain' (p. 6). Rasula gestures to the necessity of configuring the figure of the poet as a seer or 'poète maudit' in the works of Baudelaire, Lautréamont, Nerval, Verlaine and Swinburne (and many others). He views this process as linked to the prevalence of viewing poetry as a sacred calling—'Mathew Arnold recognized that poetry (in the broad sense, meaning artistic culture as such) was displacing traditional religion' (p. 7). Rasula views a sacred presentation of poetry as strangely concomitant with 'the pervasive preoccupation of French theorists (Blanchot, Foucault, Derrida, Kritseva) whose public profile would place them seemingly at odds with mythopoiesis' (p. 7). In one dazzling swoop, Rasula is able to make the transition between the muse and work of such theorists who 'set aside the text to examine the subtext—subtext understood as a tangle of striations, ideological stress marks, in which psychology and politics, sociology and aesthetics, are indiscriminately mingled in the leavening clutch of language' (p. 7). In this work, Rasula considers firstly the literal evocation of the Muse in modern poetry, be it through the conventions of Orpheus or Echo. As the discussion develops, we are offered as a

'counter' muse the imperatives towards destruction implicit in modernist poetics. This form of inspiration is linked to strategies of effacement, negation and undoing. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration is an ambitious, expansive and illuminating work interconnecting what would often seem to be antithetical propositions with considerable panache.

Sabine Sielke and Christian Kloeckner's edited collection of fifteen essays, Orient and Orientalisms in US-American Poetry and Poetics, offers a North American, European and Asian perspective upon readings of the 'Oriental' in the work of poets such as Pound, Whitman, Robert Lowell, Allen Ginsberg, Amy Lowell, Wallace Stevens and Emma Lazarus. The volume also offers readings of contemporary poets Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, John Yau and Kimiko Hahn. In their Introduction, the editors gesture to the work of critic Emily A. Haddad's study Orientalist Poetics: The Islamic Middle East in Nineteenth Century (2002). Haddad declares that 'almost every British or French poet could be included in an anthology of nineteenth-century Orientalist poetry' (p. 9). The editors argue that this proposition may also fit most nineteenth-century American lyric poets. Usefully, Sielke and Kloeckner remind us that:

While our current debates on Orient and Orientalisms tend to capitalize on Western notions of cultural dominance over 'the East' we should not forget, though that 'Oriental' cultures became more prominent reference points in poetry at moments when the genre underwent fundamental transformations of its forms and cultural functions. (p. 9)

Indeed, the editors affirm that for many American poets the 'Orient' provided a space of experimentation offering a central force in the evolution of 'US-American poetry and poetics from Romanticism across modernism to post-modernism' (p. 9). It should be noted that the study of Orientalism in this volume of essays is also attuned to the 'specific processes of colonization, modernization and decolonization that have been inscribed into that history' (p. 9). Above all, the editors view the Orient as providing a space of permission for the enquiry and formulation of a poetics. They insist that 'it becomes evident that not only has the Orient meant many different things at different historical moments' but that 'more often than not tropes of the Orient have functioned as a screen onto which to project matters that are by no means foreign but very close to home' (p. 18).

This interpretation of the relationship between Orientalism and American poetics is made evident when one turns for example to Roger Sedarat's examination of anthologies of Iranian American poetry. In 'Veiling

Hyphenated Identities: Iranian American Poets Appropriation of Orientalism', Sedarat argues that these poets adopt 'a biased depiction of Iran' in their poetry and in so doing 'reinforce post-colonial and post-modern American perspective in an attempt to legitimize their formative position between two countries' (p. 311). Invariably, one may not be surprised that an analysis of the Poundian experiment with Imagism and the Orient produces two very different critical positions. Zhaoming Qian's essay 'Against Anti Confucianism: Ezra Pound's Encounter/Collision with a Chinese Modernist' views Pound's engagement with Confucian thought in a positive light. Qian proposes that 'contrary to common belief. . . Pound's initial Confucian exploration was motivated by his interaction with anti-Confucian sentiment in China and in the West and this interaction had profound consequences for his future writings on Confucianism' (p. 127). R. John Williams' 'Modernist Scandals: Ezra Pound's translations of ''the'' Chinese Poem' makes the critic's view evident. By contrast, Williams emphasizes that Pound's turn to Confucius resulted in a 'rather violent domestication of Chinese poetry as well as a 'literary displacement' (p. 149). Even the briefest foray into these essays grants a sense of the contested site, which ideas of the Orient and Orientalism present to American poetics and contemporary literary critics alike.

Books Reviewed

Alexander, Meena. Poetics of Dislocation. UMichP. [2009] pp. xi + 202. pb £22.50 ISBN 9 7804 7205 0765.

Kelen, Christopher. Poetry, Consciousness and Community. Rodopi. [2009] pp. 200.

pb £38 ISBN 9 7890 4202 7244. Ramazani, Jahan. A Transnational Poetics. UChicP. [2009] pp. xvii + 221. hb £20

ISBN 9 7802 2670 3442. Rasula, Jed. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth. Palgrave. [2009]

pp. xvi + 251. hb £45 ISBN 9 7802 3061 0941. Read, Justin. Modern Poetics and Hemispheric American Cultural Studies. Palgrave

Macmillan. [2009] pp. xxix + 228. hb £55 ISBN 9 7802 3061 5960. Shoemaker, Steven, ed. Thinking Poetics: Essays on George Oppen. UAlaP. [2009] pp. xxvi + 320. pb £31.50 ISBN 9 7808 1735 5463.

Sielke Sabine and Kloeckner Christian. Orient and Orientalisms in US-American Poetry and Poetics. Peter Lang. [2009] pp. 360. pb £41.90 ISBN 9 7836 3157 6083.

Tiffany, Daniel. Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance. UChicP. [2009] pp. 254. pb £16.50 ISBN 0 2268 0310 4.