[continued from earlier posting 10 August 2011]

¶ R&A: In your own poetry it’s not just the natural speech line, is it? You use syllabics ...

Rexroth: Oh yes ... mostly. But the syllabic structure is just a device, and behind it there’s the organization in terms of rhythms. Eluard did that also. Or you find it in Laughlin, where you have to know what he’s playing it off against ... the jazz feeling behind it. Do you know this? (Leaning over and chanting)

Met you in the supermarket
And gee you were nice.

¶ R&A: Is that what you mean by cadenced verse?

Rexroth: The basic line in any good verse is cadenced ... building it around the natural breath structures of speech.

¶ R&A: What about Williams’ claim to have discovered a new type of American prosody?

Rexroth: Well, Bill I think is a very great poet, but I’m afraid he’s created such an elaborate smoke screen about his discoveries that he’s come to believe them. It reminds me of the story of the painter who went through a big show of stirring his paints very carefully, and someone asked him what the secret was, and he said, “It’s all in the mureatic acid.” Bill just got to believe the hoax.

¶ R&A: You wrote, in the Prairie Schooner I think, that most of the San Francisco people, except Denise Levertov, were “uncivilized.” Did you mean anything special by that?

Rexroth: No; just that Denise is the product of an old and rich culture ... her family is grounded in the humanistic tradition. I don’t think it’s that important. I mean there are a lot of different kinds of people on the San Francisco scene. And I’m not talking about Kerouac. He doesn’t belong there. I don’t think he’s been in Frisco more than three months in his life.

¶ R&A: This Marie Ponsat is quite different than the others, isn’t she? More like Lowell, or someone in the Donne tradition?

Rexroth: Oh sure, there’s just the widest variety out there. Josephine Miles, Robert Duncan — all of them are different. You can’t call this a movement.

¶ R&A: You wouldn’t want this to tighten into a single poetic point of view?

Rexroth: No; when I was teaching a workshop course there, the only thing I tried to impress on my class was certain fundamentals of any writing — directness and clarity of observation, and fidelity of the poetic situation. Not any special forms or styles.

¶ R&A: How do you take to people who work in more or less traditional metrics, like Richard Wilbur?

Rexroth: No, I’m just not interested. It bores me. What would you call the now — the neo-alexandrianization of the baroque tradition? I mean I can still read Callimachus, but not Eratos. I draw the line there ... no interest whatsoever. You can fall into the same thing by modeling your work around Saintsbury’s Minor Caroline Poets.

¶ R&A: Does that hold for Lowell too?

Rexroth: I don’t think Lowell’s like that.

¶ R&A: He writes a stanza like Drayton's ...

Rexroth: Yes, but there’s a personal element here. I’ve always felt with him a considerable violence and bettering of form. But even so, he’s not one of the people I like best.

¶ R&A: Who would you consider the rating American poets?

Rexroth: I don’t know ... Williams. He’s one of the very few we have in the general European tradition. All these quarterlies and all that exist in the backwash of the English tradition ... something apart from the modern movement. Williams is the peer of the Europeans — a world poet.

¶ R&A: How about Pound?

Rexroth: Well, as a poet I find his verse soft and mellifluous ... a limp soft line. It’s not what I’m looking for at all. The difference is like that between Wyatt and Surrey. And he’s beneath the backwash also. I just don’t think it’s very fruitful.

¶ R&A: Which European poets do you prefer?

Rexroth: Mostly French, though I read the Italians also. Reverdy and Apollinaire in particular.

¶ R&A: Any younger French poets?

Rexroth: I don’t care for the post-war ones in general, though I did translate some of [Oscar] Milosz. I like the sentiment. I’m in favor of that.

¶ R&A: How about post-war Germans?

Rexroth: Those I don’t know. Is there anything there? See if you can find some.

¶ R&A: Back to the French, what about Rene Char?

Rexroth: Well, don’t forget that he’s a sort of A.E. Housman in a modern idiom ... in the same way that Prevert is really their New Yorker poet, which shows how much ahead of us they are. Larry [Ferlinghetti] always thought he’d modeled himself on Prevert, but I think he’s got a much harder line, more like Queneau.

¶ R&A: Are there any older poets to whom you return?

Rexroth: Those I read continuously are Burns and Landor. Simple, stark quatrains ... things my little girls can enjoy.

¶ R&A: There’s been a growing interest in oriental verse recently, in which you played a part. What do you think of it?

Rexroth: In California — not Los Angeles but in Frisco — there’s direct contact. They’re open to the sea, so that something of the real flavor comes across. And Frisco, remember, is full of Buddhist churches. Mary, my little girl, was confirmed in a Buddhist temple. She saw the Life write up on Buddhism, with pictures of the ceremony, and she said she wanted to be confirmed there because she only liked Jesus as a kid. She was a little disappointed in him when he grew up. But anyway, the orientalism in Frisco isn’t all the ten cent incense burner variety. A lot of us — Gary Snyder, Alan Watts, myself — read the languages.

¶ R&A: Do you include the current Zen craze in this?

Rexroth: Oh, I don’t much care for that. Do you know what the Japanese call it? Buddhism for white people. It’s too easy, something set up for a popular market.

¶ R&A: Do you think of yourself as a Buddhist?

Rexroth: Not really ... or if I am, if I am a Buddhist, I’m a Buddhist of a very primitive sort — not a Rhys Davids Oxford Hinayana Buddhist. If I have any religious belief at all, I suppose I believe in the primacy of religious experience. In Buddhism the religious experience is purely empirical.

¶ R&A: Do you mean they’re continually searching, but nobody gets to Nirvana ... like the laughter of the Buddha and the Bodhisatvas about the path?

Rexroth: It’s like what you find in the statues — the bored look on the face of the Buddha — or the Bodhisatva’s vow made out of a kind of good humored indifference or insouciance. But I’m not a Buddhist anyway. I’m an aetheist.

¶ R&A: That searching for the path isn’t like Kerouac’s search for God’s face, is it?

Rexroth: Look, that’s all a lot of talk. You don’t become a saint until you lead a good life whether in Tibet or Italy or America. When the hipster picks this up, he cheapens it. I don’t like hipsters. The hipster is a louse on jazz ... a mimic of jazz and Negroes who believes the Negro is born with a sax in his mouth and a hypodermic in his arm. That’s despicable. In jazz circles it’s what they call Crow Jimism.

¶ R&A: And in religion?

Rexroth: I just don’t know where they drag the saints into this. You can’t become a saint by taking dope, stealing your friends’ typewriters, giving girls chancres, not supporting your wife and children, and then reading St. John of the Cross. All of that, when it’s happened before, has typified the collapse of civilization ... and today the social fabric is falling apart so fast, it makes your head swim.

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Régis Bonvicino: The Improbable Poetry of the Americas

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:19 AM 0 comments
Since the end of World War II, the United States has been the world’s superpower, a condition that was confirmed in 1991 with the demise of the Soviet Union. To speak, then, of a “Poetry of the Americas” is, to a certain extent, to speak of a poetry of centrality. The advantages achieved by the force of American capitalism have given American poets worldwide visibility.

The usual cultural flow was inverted: American poetry came to influence and nourish the various poetries of Europe and—to a lesser extent—of Latin America. Through the opposite mechanism, the United States exported its modernism (Objectivism, Imagism, Gertrude Stein) to Europe and fascinated the other Americas.

However, for that very reason, the centrality of the poetry of the Americas must be historically understood, above all. There are no Brazilian poets or Spanish American poets who have influenced American poetry. In fact, America poetry, in practice, as far as I know, is self-referential. With the notable exception of Ezra Pound, few American poets made dialogue with the Western tradition the focus of their writing. L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, for example, is an exclusively American phenomenon that did not have the need of any external avant-garde influences in order to constitute itself. In L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry there are European influences that were already present in the tradition of the American avant-garde. In the opposite direction, two American poets were, on the other hand, crucial for Brazilian concrete poetry: Ezra Pound and e. e. cummings, besides Stéphane Mallarmé, James Joyce, the German Bauhaus, etc.

But there are cases in which anti-Americanism, or at least a sentiment of resistance against the United States is a sort of missing link in the way certain South American Blocs came together. In general, this kind of alliance by reaction was unsuccessful, as in the case of the Latin American boom, a movement that was more folksy and touristy than politically committed and relevant in literary terms.

There have been other attempts at rapprochement between Spanish Americans and Brazilians, as is the case of the Neobaroque or “Neobarroso,” which tried to link the poetry of the River Plate regions. It was, however, artificial in relation to Latin American traditions themselves, and fallacious if not naïve in relation to the clearly European models of the historical baroque.

2. The Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954) attempted to break with the Portuguese colonizer and proposed, in broad terms, the colonization of all colonizers: “Let us divide. Imported poetry. And Brazilwood Poetry” (“Brazilwood Poetry Manifesto,” 1924). The cannibalist mechanism devised in 1928 and expressed in the “Cannibalist Manifesto,” would be the “national” filter used for reading materials coming from abroad and the instrument that would allow a new poetry to be forged—a new and different “poetry for export.” These words, uttered directly to the Portuguese colonizer, were assumed to be applicable to the United States as well (“Against all the importers of canned conscience”—also referring to manufactured items in the forementioned “Cannibalist Manifesto”). And there’s no dearth of historical arguments for this proposal. The British historian Norman Davies observes that the history of the expansion of the United States across the North American continent following its independence and the settlement of white colonizers in the lands of Native Americans hardly differs from the expansion of European powers in Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America.

3. These basic observations lead me to believe that a “poetry of the Americas” is a hope, a utopian seed, but whose unity, paradoxically, when formulated, necessarily introduces the egg of an ideological serpent. Formulated in Charles Bernstein’s terms, I understand the concept as a benign ecumenism, as a civilizing attempt to tame globalized savagery, whose most direct effect for poetry would be to put poets in touch with each other. But without wanting to show a rancorous reaction or reject the hope that is being drafted here, let us think a bit more about the differences that this problematic plural, Americas (and not America), entails.

The colonial trait, and then that of economic dependency, unites all cultures of the Americas, except that of the United States. The Latin American literary models are European. Which is not enough to even postulate a unity among these diverse countries. This is obvious from a variety of angles, but I will limit myself to a single and decisive one, in my view: surrealism marked Spanish American literatures, something that never happened with Brazilian literature, whose influences were more constructivist, except in one or two important poets, such as Murilo Mendes.

4. As everyone knows, Latin America suffered at the hand of bloody dictators supported by the American government, such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who destabilized the difficult construction of democracy in South America. For all non-North Americans, the postwar period was marked precisely by American interventionism, which, at times, besides politics, promoted unique poetic currents, with well-defined profiles, different from American poetry.

If an American speaks about a “poetry of the Americas” to a Spanish American or a Brazilian, even against their will, they will wonder skeptically if the idea is not at the service, culturally speaking, of the Monroe Doctrine. This should not come as a surprise. There are reasons for this skepticism. As soon as they became independent in 1776, the United States adopted the mechanism of the European colonizer, annexing parts of Mexico and Central America. Such a phenomenon did not happen, unless in limited cases of border disputes, in any other country on the continent. Obviously, such political and cultural inequalities make quite difficult the dialogue that is forged in between the cracks, by a few poets, without configuring a “poetry of the Americas.”

There is no historical unity between the blocs, other than on mythical grounds. The colonial imprint and later that of economic dependency unites all the cultures of the Americas, except that of the United States.

5. Therefore—I insist—there is no such thing as a poetic identity of the Americas. In Brazil we don’t even use the term “Americas.” The continent seems divided, once and for all, into three blocs: United States and Canada Spanish America (Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America), and Brazil, the only Portuguese-speaking country.

But the three blocs are much more than three. American identities are multiple, and are evidently irreducible to a unity, and, actually with very little experience of egalitarian dialogue among them. Clearly, I continue to contemplate on the horizon of possibility the ecumenism of Bernstein’s proposition as a civilized alternative for interaction and for an increase in cultural exchange, but in some way, I consider it historically ill-founded. As the Italian Cesare Pavese (1908-1950) affirmed, a culture that does not entail effort, that is not live work, doesn’t mean anything. Bernstein’s attempt—I imagine—will not be lost.

I say all this without victimizing Brazil or its literature. Brazil is among the 10 largest economies in the world for the last two decades; it represents 47.7% of the South American continent and 20.8% of the Americas. Brazil has produced some of the greatest and most original writers in the world, such as Joaquim de Sousândrade (1833-1902), Augusto dos Anjos (1884-1914), Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1939-1908), Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto (1881-1922), Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), João Guimarães Rosa (1908-1967), Clarice Lispector (1920-1977), Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987), Murilo Mendes (1901-1975), João Cabral de Melo Neto (1920-1999), Raul Bopp (1898-1984), and the Concrete Poetry movement in the 1950s and 60s (Haroldo de Campos, Décio Pignatari and Augusto de Campos), etc. Brazil has formed equally a cultural singularity, which is rich and diverse, and is perhaps only matched by Cuba or the United States.

Because of this, I prefer to say that there are matchless poets in the Americas, but there is no poetry of the Americas.

.......

PS.
Odile Cisneros points out, rendering both the main thesis of this text and Charles Bernstein’s thesis (in the sense that the topic is not exactly new), that there has historically been dialogue among poets of the Americas. She notes that the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916) and the Cuban poet José Martí (1853-1895) read and admired Walt Whitman. The Brazilian poet Mário de Andrade (1893-1945) makes the following remark in the “Prefácio interessantíssimo” of Pauliceia desvairada (1922), the book that launched modern poetry in Brazil: “Have you already read Walt Whitman? Mallarmé?” Cisneros speaks of a Pan-American spirit. The presence of Whitman in Spanish American poetry, she argues, would be a good topic for a book. The Brazilian poet Ronald de Carvalho (1893-1935), she adds, wrote a poetry volume entitled Toda a América (All of America), published in 1926, which was translated into Spanish by Francisco Villaespesa and published in 1935, with repercussion in all of the Spanish-speaking Americas. Octavio Paz influenced poets such as Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, Cisneros, a professor in Edmonton, concludes. Her point about Ronald de Carvalho’s Toda a América is very relevant. Besides participating in the Brazilian Week of Modern Art in 1922, Ronald de Carvalho was the only Brazilian poet who had contact with the Portuguese modernist poets Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) and Mário de Sá-Carneiro (1890-1916), even managing to publish in the review Orpheu (1915), edited by these two poets, veritable giants of all of Portuguese-language poetry. Carvalho was posted to Lisbon as a diplomat in 1914, and returned to Brazil in 1919. I quote an essay by Antonio Donizeti da Cruz entitled “Identity and Alterity in Ronald de Carvalho’s Toda a América: The Link of the Local and the Global”: “America—in the words of Octavio Paz—is the ‘sudden incarnation of a European utopia. The dream becomes reality, a present; a now that is colored with the hue of tomorrow. The presence and the present of America are a future […] Its being, its reality or substance consists of always being a future, a history that does not justify itself in the past, but rather in what is to come […] America was not; it only exists if it is a utopia.’” I quote here the last stanza of Carvalho’s poem “Broadway”: “Epic ground, lyric ground, idealistic ground,/ Broadway's indifferent ground,/ wide, flat, practical and simple in the air, this/ smooth roof, suspended in the air, this roof, where a/ saxophone pours out a warm stupor of slave quarters’ sun.” For Octavio Paz, the dialogue points in the direction of plurality and the monologue, towards identity, and he concludes: “Poetry was always an attempt at resolving such discord through the exchange of terms: the ‘I’ of the monologue into the ‘you’ of the monologue. Poetry does not say: I am you; it says, my I is you. The poetic image is otherness.”

[NOTE.  The reader should also consult Charles Bernstein’s important essay, “Our Americas: New Worlds Still in Progress,” which appeared here and here on Poems and Poetics, and to which Bonvicino’s piece may be read as a kind of counter proposal.  Regis Bonvicino is a major Brazilian poet and the editor of Sibila, a key journal of poetry and poetics, both Brazilian and international.  A complete version of Bonvicino’s essay can be found at http://www.sibila.com.br/index.php/sibila-english/823-the-improbable-poetry-of-the-americas]

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John Martone: Magicicada spp.

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:12 AM 0 comments
Even if little boys in play
shd use a piece of grass or wood or a brush
or perhaps a fingernail
to draw an image of the Buddha
such persons as these
bit by bit will pile up merit
and will become fully endowed with a mind of great compassion;
they all have attained the Buddha way.
The buddha’s relics will circulate widely
 --The Lotus Sutra

HD 10180, a yellow dwarf star like our own Sun, had five planets detected by the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) programme at the European Southern Observatory. … Two further planets were discovered in the system towards the end of 2010, making it the most-populated planetary system to date.
 --BBC 0ct 1, 2008

it’s another
planet now
cicadas

*

cicada shell’s my amulet cerebrum

 *

must be
same gene

tells you
get
out of

yrself
cicada

*
 yr shell — my shell —
cicada
kayak

*

cicada shell
kayak too this
bottomless lake

*

little
boat

on that
sea

lucky
drowning!

*

every bit of you comes out cicada

*

lonely mobs
13-year
cicadas

*

in my undershirt
examining
cicada molts

*

13 year
cicada — what gets
reborn?

*

cicada molt my skin color

*

cicadas
termites

how much longer
being human 

*

cicada — millions
never knowing
one another

*

cicada millions
an ocean
full of whales

*

bumbling down
this road one more
cicada

*

cicadas die
legs drawn up
so human

*

mulberries of course there’s a stain

*

cicadas & mulberries equal in number

*

ci
cada
wings

maple
keys—

& still
this

air
remains

*

cicadas
falling

out of
sky

all those
people

*

imago
instar
nymph
which are you?

*

sky’s
one
big

eye
glass
lens

*

o cicada
you’ve no
eyelids

*

knowing
what youre
about —
catastrophe

*

rusting — ruins
surrounding
the pea plants

*

                        
peas really climbing now — youre out of sticks        

*

bare wood shack
cabbages
taking shape

*

get out
of yr head
sketching cabbages

*

old clothespins
all those lives
outdoors

*

electrical box --
there's yr opening
wrens

*

thunder
he pulls up
his socks

*

tar paper roof
trellises
filling up

*

all
youwant

to be
one

dragon
fly
wing

*

little kitchen
you get all
the light

*

elbows
on a wood table
solo

*
                                                                 wood table old friend
a bread-
&-
butter

solo
life

*

bare kitchen counters
& the radio
off

*

raining
it’s a glass
bowl

*

ten-year-
old
bamboo

knows
the trick’s

to root
in
water
*
                                           another raccoon you scrub a pear

*
dish
towels

fold
ed

*

under-sink
cabinet
won’t stay shut

*

you wash
yr spoon

& brush
yr teeth

*

come spring
the mice forsake
this little kitchen

*

in
the right
light
you
dis
appear

--june 2011

[This is the third set of poems by John Martone to appear in Poems and Poetics. On publishing the first set, “geometry,” & again for the second set, "presence of all colors," I wrote: “[Martone] remains throughout our greatest living miniaturist -- his art a scaled-down work of nearly epic dimensions,” an appraisal I think that continues to be the case today.  (For a fuller accounting see the "geometry" posting, August 18, 2010.)]

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[The following is from a longer piece recently published in the European Romantic Review (Volume 22, Issue 1, February 2011), tracing Jeffrey Robinson’s pivotal work in questioning the Coleridgean opposition of Imagination & Fancy, not so much favoring one over the other as allowing the Fancy its due as the cutting edge of an emerging but always present avant-garde.  I would note further the close resemblance of Fancy as here defined to Goya’s Caprichos (a word for “fancy” in Spanish) and Lorca’s Duende, concepts & powers that have long been close to me & many others.  The rest, like they say, is semantics.  (J.R.)]

From The Times, a small story of the reopening of what was once the Museo Romantico, now the Museo del Romanticismo: 

"'They can call it whatever they like,' said Norberto Mateos, as he stood in a line of about 50 people patiently waiting to enter a Madrid museum earlier this month, but 'it'll always be the Museo Romantico to us.' . . . . For many Madrileños like Mr. Mateos, the name change ― from Romantic Museum to Museum of Romanticism ― had gone unnoticed. It was as if a dear friend who went away without a proper goodbye has returned . . . . With nearly 1,400 objects ranging from grand pianos and wall-size oil paintings to diamond-studded stickpins and toy soldiers tucked into 26 rooms of an elegant neo-Classical palace, [the Museum] is often summed up in Spanish with the word bombonera ― a box of sweets." ["In Madrid, Isn't It Romantic?"]

A charming anecdote, perhaps, from the perspective of The Times, striking another of its genteel blows on behalf of upscale common sense against the dour isms of the academy. From the perspective of the academy, however, I imagine the view would be more complex. On the one hand, who cares? Whatever connections exist between the rigors of an academic discipline and the vagaries of commodified culture are vague ones. This is merely another garden variety evocation of the romantic. Note the similarity between the Madrileños' taste for bomboneras and Yeats' view of Keats as the "schoolboy . . . / With face and nose pressed to a sweet-shop window"; note the symptomatic vagueness of a Romantic/Romanticism Museum housed in a neo-Classical palace. But on the other hand, if the anecdote is granted significance, then Romanticists could take heart in a quasi-dialectical way: even if the consumers, locked in their nostalgic habits, prefer the Romantic Museum, what they are actually visiting represents the historical advance of the discipline, the Museum of Romanticism. A third perspective might find a troubling omen for Romanticists in the inability of the intellectual noun to dislodge the disreputable but persistent adjective. This persistence can be read as signaling that the passel of associations accompanying "romantic" are not mere adjectival detritus but represent a more telling registration of the phenomena that Romanticists attempt to adjudicate. This would turn the hard-won coherences put forward by Romanticists into defensive reductions of the perennial romantic overflow, the tin soldiers of Urizen, so to speak. The promiscuous signification of "romantic" (sweet, insurrectionary, sentimental, erotic, adolescent, narcissistic, satanic, kitschy), not to mention its ahistoric adhesiveness (aren't the Pyramids especially romantic at sunset? and the Empire State Building at the end of Sleepless in Seattle?) – these, then, change aspects, from embarrassments or annoyances to reliable sources of information. In other words, Romanticism is romantic. (Does this mean that the end of Bright Star -- where we are informed that after Keats's death Fanny Brawne habitually strayed deep into the woods as she thought of him -- should be taken as showing us a deeper truth than the mere historical fact that she married in 1833 and had three children?)

It seems to me that the project that Jeffrey C. Robinson has been engaged in over the past three decades is a signally romantic one. But at this point, I need to abandon the melodramatic starkness of my initial binary: it is not a question of a battle that pits the accuracy of literary scholarship against the inveigling of the New York Times Travel section or the big-screen melancholy of Bright Star. Although I am not a Romanticist, it doesn't strike me that there need be the slightest doubt as to the scope, solidity, and nuance of Robinson's scholarly knowledge. He is clearly a Romanticist in the most professional, authoritative, accredited sense of the word. But throughout the range of his work, a consistent goal seems to have been troubling the professional boundaries of Romanticism. He does this in a number of ways: by mixing genres (scholarly chapters, feuilletons combining autobiographical and critical reflection, experimental poetry), splicing historical periods together (in his critical analyses as often as in his poetry), and by transgressing emotional/intellectual protocol.

In a way, this last category of gesture is the most scandalous -- although my vocabulary doesn't do justice to what Robinson is doing. "Scandal" and "transgression" do not lead one to expect Robinson's genial, elegant but straightforward prose style, nor the thorough scholarship he displays. What I'm gesturing towards is better described as a transhistoric poetics built from careful historical research. Robinson is a visionary scholar and a scholarly visionary.

His recent Unfettering Poetry: The Fancy in British Romanticism is unambiguously scholarly, and, from my non-specialist perspective, seems quite successful on that level. With its widespread and detailed readings of poetry, criticism, and editorial and anthology practice; its copious notes and sources; its highly specific but far reaching argument about British Romantic poetry as a whole, Unfettering provides a detailed history of fancy and its status vis-à-vis imagination. The opening chapter gives an historical overview of the promotion and maintenance of what Robinson terms "fanciphobia": "Philosophers, theorists, reviewers, and literary critics from the French Revolution to the present have sought to devise strategies to displace or disarm the power of the Fancy." Considered in isolation, Robinson's critical gesture could seem rather fashionable: backing the less-applauded side of a binary, fancy instead of imagination, can be a trendy move in academia – consider Zizek's efforts to promote melancholy and demote mourning. But Robinson's claim for fancy is far more earnest than fashionable. For him, fear of the fancy (or disdain for it, condescension toward it, slightly less interest in it – there are varying degrees of devaluation) is more or less synonymous with fear of poetry. The underlying supposition of the book is that fanciphobia has been a central, constricting force in British and American poetry for over two centuries: "Coleridge's now famous dichotomy of Imagination/Fancy, along with the explicit hierarchical relationship conferred upon them, constitute the poetics and the critical apparatus that have characterized Anglo-American literary culture for the past 250 years."  Imagination (or rather the principle of poetry it represents) has become associated with conservation, stability, and consolidation. . . . whereas poor Fancy has been relegated by these same institutions into triviality, a childish impulse: immature, escapist . . ."  Robinson's view inverts these values: "This powerful form of poetry, confrontative in its experimentalism, what in the Romantic Period we are calling the poetry of the Fancy, belongs to a tradition of poetry that extends past Romanticism into the experimental modernism and postmodernism of the twentieth century and of our own."  This sense of de-periodization shows up most clearly in the recent anthology, Poems for the Millennium, Vol. 3, that Robinson edited with Jerome Rothenberg.

Despite this trans-Romantic perspective, Unfettering is quite focused historically; the bulk of the investigation is closely tied to specific Romantic figures and moments. For instance, in the penultimate chapter Robinson provides an informative comparison of the 1824 and 1825 editions of William Hazlitt's anthology Select British Poets. At first glance, this might seem the narrowest of scholarly investigations. But what was at stake was both topical and, in respect to subsequent development of poetry in English, prophetic. The 1824 version included a substantial selection of living poets, was quickly withdrawn due to copyright problems, and was given little notice at the time. It is now quite a rare book and has not been the subject of much subsequent critical debate. But Robinson nevertheless sees it as "a momentous event in the history of the reception, dissemination, and canonization of British Romantic Poetry." It was, he writes, "the first judicious selection of the poetry of the early nineteenth century (the section called 'Living Poets'), made by one intimately familiar with the poetry and the poets of the day and the period's most acute, boldest, and most wide-ranging reader of and commentator upon British Literature past and present." It was, in Robinson's view, an "expressive anthology," i.e., one with "an agenda shaped openly by the editor"; and what it expressed was a Cockney poetics, a poetics of the fancy. Robinson ties this tightly to its own moment via nuanced evidence: he collates scarce references to the 1824 edition from Mary Shelley's letters and similar sources; he deduces from typographic evidence that the majority of the few extant copies were printed in America in order to preempt the impending copyright battles. In other words, it is the most careful scholarship; but at the same time, in its prophetic dimension, it is an example of what fuels Robinson's project, which in toto – scholarship, feuilleton, experimental collaged poetry – is best seen as being written under the sign of "Living Poets." (Or, as Blake would have it, "The authors are in eternity.") At one point, Robinson quotes Hazlitt as implying that "poetry . . . at its essence is both very 'new' and very 'old,' at the periphery of the social voice, what Keats called a 'new old song." This sense of poetry, both historically embedded and transhistorical, seems one that Robinson holds as well. One could say that the moment of the 1824 edition extends throughout Robinson's writings and into Poems for the Millennium.

Subsequent chapters in Unfettering cover related but distinct moments of British Romantic Poetry. The width of critical aperture varies: there are chapters on the lyric subject as manifested in the poems of Barbauld, Clare, Blake, Wordsworth et al.; on the poetry of "cheerfulness," which Robinson associates broadly as "a poetry of the Fancy", and, more narrowly, as often manifesting itself in rhyming tetrameter couplets; on the Della Cruscans and Mary Robinson's relation to them; on boxing (known then as The Fancy, thus creating a pun that united fisticuffs and poetry, a cultural stretch whose two sides Hazlitt inhabited). The coverage of British Romantic poets is both capacious and, in an up to date sense, canonical – e.g., Robert Merry, Anna Barbauld, Leigh Hunt, Felicia Hemans, Mary Robinson, John Clare are given detailed treatment, while long-canonical poets are re-presented perspicaciously. Wordsworth and Coleridge are read, quite plausibly, not simply as key figures in the promulgation of imagination at the expense of fancy, but as themselves poets of the fancy, at least in some of their work. Detail is in sync with overview: the way Unfettering opens and concludes with "Ode to a Nightingale" is quite neatly done. In the opening chapter, Robinson presents the historical coalescence and continuing influence of M. H. Adams's "greater romantic lyric" with its subsequent instantiations in Harold Bloom and, mutatis mutandis, Helen Vendler. "Nightingale" is a key example of value throughout this process. Unfettering ends by focusing on the lines that form Exhibit A in the case of Imagination v. Fancy: "Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well / As she is fam'd to do, deceiving Elf!" Critical consensus has it that Keats is here dismissing fancy and accepting the soberer truth of imagination. These lines are usually taken as, in Robinson's description, "a 'q.e.d.' of [Keats's] achieved maturity, an acknowledgement of life's tragic core." Robinson reverses this. His conclusions are the result both of close reading of "Nightingale" and of examination of its immediate context (the poems Keats was writing at the same time, and the placement of "Nightingale" in Select British Poets). Robinson sees the poem as expressing Keats's celebration of the fancy and his affinity with Cockney poetics. Like the critics he opposes, Robinson sees "Nightingale" as exemplary, but he draws the contrary conclusion: "the simple question that must be asked about the "Ode to a Nightingale" can stand for the same question directed toward the entire line of Fanci-phobic apologists for poetry: why would a poet – particularly one with Keats's energies, his sensuousness, his affinities with the politically and culturally dissident Cockney poets – choose to write a poem skeptical of poetry's visionary capacity?"  "The Fancy," Robinson writes in one summary, "is the faculty and, one might add, the visionary technique of mixed realities – subjective and object, old and new, mental and physical, public and private."

My compressed summary of the book flattens Robinson's arguments, but my initial point is simply to show that, in normative senses, Unfettering is a well-argued, shapely work of scholarship. My larger point, however, is that this scholarship is an integral part of a project which reaches quite a bit beyond normative scholarly practices. Again, it is a matter of "Living Poets." Robinson's subject is not Romantic poetry, but simply poetry. And poetry not as a series of historical examples, but as a transhistorical force. Near the end of Unfettering, Robinson writes that "the Fancy defines the vision of Romantic poetry and, finally, the purpose of visionary poetry in general: to expand, to defamiliarize perception, to challenge convention, to express mind-in-its-freedom by establishing a playful relationship to language.  Once again, 'Poetry fetter'd, fetters the human race.' I believe that, allowing for variation in time and place, this definition has a fairly constant application in the history of poetry."  When he writes of the efforts of "Fanci-phobes" to "disarm the power of the Fancy," it is as if, by using the definite article and capital F, he is speaking of a divinity of sorts, one with actual powers.

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