Uncertain Poetries: Selected Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Poetics

By Selinger, Eric Murphy | Shofar, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Uncertain Poetries: Selected Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Poetics


Selinger, Eric Murphy, Shofar


Uncertain Poetries: Selected Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Poetics, by Michael Heller. Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2005. 247 pp. $21.95.

When poet and critic Michael Heller wrote his first book of prose, Conviction's Net of Branches: Essays on the Objectivist Poets and Poetry (Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), the Objectivists were the neglected stepchildren of American modernism, overshadowed by the far more famous poets who influenced them (Pound, Williams) and by the bravura public careers of the poets that followed (Robert Lowell, W H. Auden, and the New American Poets of the 1950s and 60s). Twenty years later, the core group of Objectivists are routinely anthologized, with Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, and Lorine Neidecker-all but the last of them Jewish-seen as major figures in their own right and in the history of American verse. Heller, too, has finally begun to receive the attention he deserves, not least as the leadoff figure in the "Objectivist Continuities" chapter of Norman Finkelstein's Not One of Them in Place: Modern Poetry and Jewish American Identity. Uncertain Poetries, a selection of Heller's essays, talks, and reviews from the past twenty years, shows how far the range of this poet's interests have carried him beyond the Objectivist tradition-and how thinking deeply within this tradition, as well as outside it, has carried him into a distinctive, appealing account of the relationship between poetry and "tradition" more generally.

Heller strikes a keynote for the collection in the opening sentence of "The Uncertainty of the Poet," a meditation on the painting of that name by the Italian modernist Georgio de Chirico. "I am here," he declares, "investigating the floating filigree of doubt and fear, that feeling of being on the edge, which often accompanies poetic composition" (p. 3). Heller's essays pursue the "edgy" encounters incumbent upon writing poetry: encounters with oneself, one's culture, one's imagined future readers, and most profoundly with what Gershom Scholem described, in a passage Heller cites, as "the abyss in which the freedom of living things is born" (p. 230).

By opening his collection with an essay on de Chirico's enigmatically allegorical cityscape, Heller joins a fine tradition of poets who have explored their own poetics by writing about visual art. Heller writes with sympathy and sensuous intelligence on Pound's relationship with the sculptor GaudierBrzeska and Rilke's interest in Rodin and Cezanne, the painter who gave the German poet "a way to use the past" (p. 57), and uses the contrasts between their disparate Romantic and Vorticist versions of modernism to triangulate his own ideas about nature of form and the uses of artistic tradition.

The Rilke who set himself to study at Cezanne's easel, Heller writes, did so to learn to write "a poetry in which precision and uncertainty were inextricably joined" (p. 59). To Heller, lyric poetry ought to articulate both affirmation and doubt-ideally, in fact, it should do so simultaneously, although as several essays make clear, the poem will be just as well off if it tracks the poet's trajectory from "the museums of received ideas" (p. 178) into the open space of the new, or "from the known into the unknown," as George Oppen put it in a passage Heller cites (p. 200). Heller's emphasis on this "double-sidedness of the literary act" (p. 3) serves to distinguish his poetics from those promulgated by the Language poets, that radically skeptical, radically theoretical cadre of poets who announced their presence in the early 1980s. That the Language poets saw themselves as heirs to the Objectivists seems to have sparked a need, on Heller's part, to distinguish his vision of that inheritance from theirs; several essays here, notably "Avant-Garde Propellants of the Machine Made of Words," take up how his own ideal of a poetry that frees us from intellectual dogma and orthodoxy differs from their revolutionary ambitions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Uncertain Poetries: Selected Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Poetics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.