Twentieth Century Poetry: Selves and Situations

By Peter Robinson | Go to book overview

Preface

Twentieth Century Poetry: Selves and Situations is a series of interconnected studies. Though shape and cohesion are aimed for in the book, no attempt has been made at military discipline, vanguard or rearguard, in the way these explorations of individual works, oeuvres, and human histories proceed. Early drafts of three chapters were in existence before the completion of In the Circumstances: About Poems and Poets (1992). All but two were written before Poetry, Poets, Readers: Making Things Happen (2002) found its form. While this book was not produced exactly to develop or reconsider published work, there have inevitably been changes in the writer’s outlook during the time that they were composed and revised. As regards guiding ideas on relations between poems, people, and places, the introductory chapter, for example, expresses qualms about what ‘circumstance’ and ‘context’ may haplessly imply. With regard to ways of approaching individual cases, I hope the reader will find in the following chapters more grateful understanding and less anxious moralizing than in some earlier work.

The selves and situations of twentieth-century poems could not conceivably achieve anything without the collaborative involvement of readers, each one of us an evolving self in changing situations. Alongside its various concerns, this sequence of chapters looks at ways in which poets can create, and create out of, relationships of a more or less trusting kind with their poems’ implied and, by those means, actual readers. It also includes cases that reveal the relative absence of, or wish to do without, such relationships. In the first chapter this range of possible relations, or their absence, is introduced through an exploration of complexities in ways by which selves and situations interact and become imaginatively identified with each other in poems. Each subsequent chapter shares an interest in how poems can be both attached to and detached from the culture, society, and conditions in which they were written. It also sketches the ubiquity and elusiveness of the self in the situation of the text. Poems are, furthermore, seen to be focal points for relationships between readerly and writerly selves and their situations in and over time.

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