Lyric Detachment: Two New Books of Poetry

By Olsen, William | Chicago Review, Summer 1991 | Go to article overview

Lyric Detachment: Two New Books of Poetry


Olsen, William, Chicago Review


As artists, poets should naturally want to distance themselves from what they regard as mere fashion - which is to say that fashion influences those who would shed it almost as deeply as those who would cling to it. At present it seems fashionable to deride the personal in poetry. We have approached a juncture where contemporary American poetry is collectively congratulating itself for having escaped the malignant confines of a personal poetry, especially as practiced by the so-called confessional poets - currently, our most widely spanning and therefore most meaningless pejorative. A poetry of self-confrontation is seen to be a product, if not the cause, of the excesses of a narcissistic culture. Further, a strictly personal poetry is seen to be aesthetically incorrect: if the Marxists are right and our consumer society created an ethos of the self out of a need for ever more selfish consumers, then any poetry dealing with the personal only strengthens the stranglehold our greed has on us. Our newest truism is that a less private, more public poetry is less apt to be given to narcissism, sentimentalism, self-promotion, etc. A more public poetry will lead us away from all of these things. In the meantime the introspective had better watch their step.

No doubt genuine change in the arts occurs slowly, maybe too slowly for those of us mired in the present moment to comprehend. That so many voices are clamoring against the personal suggests, among other things, how strong a pull the personal still has on poetry.

And arguably, of the various kinds of discourse, poetry is actually blessed, not cursed, with a small (the sophists would say elite) audience; for if poetry has one custodial function in our culture right now, it may be to preserve the potential for genuine community that eludes more massive forms of communication. You can't talk back to a TV, a poet-friend once said to me. True, you can't talk back to a poem either. But when you listen to a poem or read a poem, you listen as part of a small group or you read by yourself and not as an indistinguishable member of a tyrannical majority. The individual called the poet depends on the fact that other individuals called readers are out there. However, even in our most revolutionary poetry, L = A = N = G = U = A = G = E poetry, what we have (arguably) instead of a public poetry is a poetry that could not possibly be more subjective, a poetry that chooses the most private of all aesthetic paths, absolute stylism.

What really has changed in American poetry in the last thirty years or so is not so easy to talk about. It may have less to do with poetry eschewing the subjective than with its tiring of postured ways of behaving subjectively in poems and its rejecting specious alchemical formulas for the private life. In reading new books by Jorie Graham and Chase Twichell, it becomes clear to me that the dynamics between poetry and personality have changed somewhat. Both poets use post-modernist strategies of artistic self-consciousness - like David Letterman knocking on the camera lens to see if anyone at home is really at home - but they do so only out of the hyper-earnest desire to be more honest about poetry's status as artifice. Though both poets aspire to a more public role for the poetry, by and large they are still cartographers of the interior. Their poetry is characteristic of one current branch of mainstream poetry, a poetry of lyric detachment.

These poets view human experience less as dramatic participants or as agonized soliloquists and more as detached observers. It is poetry's very capacity to distance us from experience that attracts - and frustrates - these poets and paradoxically impassions them with responsibility. There is a suprapersonal, yet pained restraint in their treatment of the qualms of the inner life and the unpredictabilities of a deterministic world. On the one hand, detachment becomes a necessary evil. On the other hand, as the essential flipside of involvement, it actually facilitates worldly engagement. …

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

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.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

Lyric Detachment: Two New Books of Poetry
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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access 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

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.