Defensive Measures: The Poetry of Niedecker, Bishop, Glück, and Carson

Defensive Measures: The Poetry of Niedecker, Bishop, Glück, and Carson

Defensive Measures: The Poetry of Niedecker, Bishop, Glück, and Carson

Defensive Measures: The Poetry of Niedecker, Bishop, Glück, and Carson

Synopsis

Much of our strongest poetry that learned its lessons from early modernism lives by its defensive measures, that is, by means of reversing, inverting, and challenging in covert ways a dominant perceptual mode. Defensive Measures explores strategies by which poets claim their distinctiveness, and argues that poetry is the one literary form that most insistently demands a defense. It demands a defense, it would seem, because it is perpetually in crisis - not only in regard to its utility and its aesthetic appeal (or the vigor of its renunciation of such an appeal), but in regard to its generic existence. Upton defines a generative conception of defense and examines in a new light the poetry of Lorine Niedecker, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Gluck, and Anne Carson. In writing about Bishop. Upton puts this well-regarded poet in a new framework, aligning her work with that of three poets whose aesthetics might be viewed as antithetical to her own...

Excerpt

Poetry is the literary form that incites defense. Perpetually in crisis over matters of its utility, or its dismissal of utility, its aesthetic appeal, or its renunciation of such an appeal, its generic existence, or its rebuke to the conceit of genre, poetry courts high expectations and, often enough, dashes them. Surely Plato’s challenge to anyone who might defend poetry against perpetual exile on charges of its infective and imitative qualities has not stopped resonating: “Shall I propose, then, that she be allowed to return from exile, but upon this condition only—that she make a defence of herself in some lyrical or other metre?” Poetry needs its defenders, not only for its forays against prior aesthetic convention in each new generation, but as the genre whose every particular is held up for examination as symptomatic of the culture from which it emerges (and, ironically, as such, poetry may be deplored for even its unwitting absorption of cultural convention).

As Wallace Stevens wrote, “All poetry is experimental poetry.” Surely it is not farfetched to say that experiment, by its nature, invites attack. Poetry’s defenders have their work cut out for them. While the novel is said by some every few decades to be dying, poetry is most frequently defending itself and claiming its own resuscitation. Consider the tenor of even a brief selection of the arguments arising from some of the more well-known defenses of poetry in English. Whatever reasoning is advanced in poetry’s defense, the defender’s tone has often been one of exaltation, even when threads of irony may be shot through the rhetoric of uplift. Poetry is, among other things, a vehicle for praise in Sidney’s defense/apology, closing with the famous curse, that the recalcitrant reader’s “memory [may] die from the earth for want of an epitaph.” If we turn to Shelley’s defense, poetry is not only the master work of “unacknowledged legislators” but must illuminate and refine: “We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.