Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy

Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy

Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy

Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy


A new collection of essays from a distinguished critic of contemporary poetry.

Marjorie Perloff is one of the foremost critics of contemporary American poetry writing today. Her works are credited by many with creating and sustaining new critical interest not only in the work of major modernist poets such as Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and Williams but also in the postwar tradition of American poetic innovation that ranges from the Black Mountain poets, through the New York School and concrete poetry, to the Language Poets of the 1980s and '90s.

In Differentials, Perloff explores and defends her belief in the power of close reading, a strategy often maligned as reactionary in today's critical climate but which, when construed differentially, is vital, she believes, to any true understanding of a literary or poetic work, irrespective of how traditional or experimental it is. Perloff also examines key issues in modernism, from Eliot's conservative poetics and Pound's nominalism to translation theory (Wittgenstein, Eugene Jolas, Haroldo de Campos), and the contemporary avant garde, as represented by writers like Susan Howe, Tom Raworth, Rae Armantrout, Ron Silliman, Ronald Johnson, Caroline Bergvall, and Kenneth Goldsmith.

Ultimately, Perloff's most important offerings in Differentials are her remarkably original reflections on the aesthetic process: on how poetry works, and what it means, in and for our time.


Reading Closely

Not long ago I was teaching a graduate course called “Theory of the AvantGarde,” which covered such major movements as Futurism and Dada as well as two individual American “avant-gardists”—Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams. The course material was largely unfamiliar to the class: F. T. Marinetti’s parole in libertà, Velimir Khlebnikov’s Tables of Destiny, Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass and the “notes” for its execution in the White Box, Kurt Schwitters’s collages and sound poems, and Raoul Haussman’s political satire. The students were remarkably astute on the larger aesthetic and ideological issues involved and especially perceptive about visual works. I was therefore astonished when at semester’s end we came to what I took to be the more familiar American modernist exemplars and found that the same students who could discuss with great aplomb the relation of the Milky Way to Bachelors in the Large Glass were largely at a loss when it came to Williams’s short lyric poems like “Danse Russe” or “The Young Housewife”—both, incidentally, well-known anthology pieces. Here is “The Young Housewife”:

At ten A.M. the young housewife
moves about in negligee behind
the wooden walls of her husband’s house.
I pass solitary in my car.

Then again she comes to the curb
to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands
shy, uncorseted, tucking in
stray ends of hair, and I compare her
to a fallen leaf.

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