Syncopations: The Stress of Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry

Syncopations: The Stress of Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry

Syncopations: The Stress of Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry

Syncopations: The Stress of Innovation in Contemporary American Poetry

Synopsis

Syncopations is an analysis of the sustaining vitality behind contemporary American poetry from 1975 to the present day by one of the most astute observers and critics in the field. The 12 essays reflect Jed Rasula's nearly 30 years of advocacy on behalf of "opening the field" of American poetry. From the Beats and the Black Mountain poets in the 1950s and 1960s to the impact of language poetry, the specter of an avant-garde has haunted the administrative centers of poetic conservatism. But the very concept of avant-garde is misleading, implying organized assault. Incentives for change can be traced to other factors, including the increased participation of women, critical theory's self-reflection, and a growing interest in the book as a unit of composition. Syncopations addresses these and other issues evident in the work of such poets and critics as Clayton Eshleman, Marjorie Perloff, Ronald Johnson, Clark Coolidge, Nathaniel Mackey, and Robin Blaser. Its chapters range in modes and include close readings, sociological analysis, philosophical-aesthetic meditations, and career appraisals. By examining both exemplary innovators and the social context in which innovation is either resisted, acclaimed, or taken for granted, Rasula delivers an important conceptual chronicle of the promise of American poetry.

Excerpt

Syncopations hovers midway between being a planned book and a collection of occasional essays. Charles Bernstein had suggested several times over the years that I gather my writings on contemporary poetry into a book. My reluctance to do so resulted in this hybrid. Syncopations attempts a conceptual chronicle of the promise of American poetry from 1975 to the present, a promise identified in the subtitle, “the stress of innovation.” As it stands, concept exceeded chronicle. While numerous publications contributed to the final result, most of them became thoroughly transformed in the process. “The Catastrophe of Charm” and “Literacy Effects” remained intact in order to serve an indexical role to The American Poetry Wax Museum (they were originally written before I thought of writing such a book, and they turned out to bear some premonitions of it years in advance). Apart from bringing the first one up to date, the concluding sequence of homages (to Clayton Eshleman, Ronald Johnson, Robin Blaser, and Nathaniel Mackey) are also much as previously published. Otherwise, the bulk of Syncopations has either not appeared in print before, or has been drastically recomposed.

Decades of challenging correspondence and debate with Don Byrd have played a decisive role at every stage in the writings that make up this book. I am also indebted to Bruce Andrews, who patiently read through a large and ungainly preview of Syncopations; his incisive suggestions made the present text legible to me. An anonymous reader for the University of Alabama Press also provided challenging and invaluable . . .

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