I soon discovered that I was quite isolated in my attempts to pursue the sociology of literature. In any case, one searched almost in vain for allies if one wanted to approach a literary text from the perspective of a critical theory of society. To be sure, there were Franz Mehring’s articles which I read with interest and profit; but despite the admirable decency and the uncompromising political radicalism of the author, his writings hardly went beyond the limits of a socialist journalist who wrote in essentially the same style about literature as about political and the economy. George Lukács had not yet published his impressive series of essays on Marxist aesthetics and interpretation of literature. Of course, I was deeply touched and influenced by his fine little book, The Theory of the Novel (1920), which I practically learned by heart. Besides Levin Schücking’s small volume on the sociology of literary taste, the only other major influence I can recall was George Brandes’ monumental work on the literary currents of the nineteenth century.
Nonetheless, I had the courage, not to say hubris, to plan an ambitious, socially critical series on French, English, Spanish, and German literature, the beginning of which was to be formed by the above-mentioned studies. My attention was especially focused on the writes and literary schools which the German literary establishment either punished by total silence (for example, “Young Germany” and Friedrich Spielhagen) or raised up into the clouds of idealistic babble (Goethe and the Romantics) or relegated to quasi-folkloric anthropology (C. F. Meyer and Gottfried Keller).
In these studies, I limited myself to the narrative forms of literature; for reasons which I hold to be sociologically and artistically valid, I believe that novels and stories represent the most significant aspect of German literature in the nineteenth century. While I in no way feel ashamed of these documents of my youth, I am conscious of their weaknesses. If I were to write them over again, I would certainly be less sure of some of the direct connections I drew between literature and writers on the one hand, and the social infrastructure on the other. In later publications I attempted to analyze with greater circumspection the mediation between substructure and superstructure, between social currents and ideologies; but my views on the social world and the necessity to combine social theory and literary analysis have not changed in any essential way. In the last decades the sociology of literature has become progressively more fashionable. The writings of my contemporaries have often amazed me because some—frequently in unnecessarily complicated and esoteric language—are so concerned with “mediation” that the connections between social being and social consciousness became almost obscured.
Leo Lowenthal is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also professor emeritus at the University of Frankfurt in West Germany. His collected works have been published in five volumes in German (1980-87) and in a parallel English edition. Lowenthal’s autobiographical writings, edited by Martin jay, will appear in the fall of 1987 under the title An Unmastered Past. Lowenthal’s present studies deal with German postmodernism. Ted. R. Weeks is a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in imperial Russian history.
Some years ago a collection of historical and philosophical essays on sex was advertised under the slogan: Philosophers are interested in sex again. Since that time the history of sexuality has become an almost unexceptionable topic, occasioning as many books and articles as anyone would ever care to read. Yet there are still fundamental conceptual problems that get passed over imperceptibly when this topic is discussed, passed over, at least in part, because they seem so basic or obvious that it would be time badly spent to worry too much about them. However, without backtracking toweard this set of problems, one will quite literally not know what one is writing the history of when one writes a history of sexuality.
An excellent example of some of the most sophisticated current writing in this field can be found in Western Sexuality, a collection of essays that resulted from a seminar conducted by Philippe Ariès at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in 1979-80.1 As one would expect, Western Sexuality is characterized by a diversity of methodological and historiographical approaches—social history, intellectual history, cultural history (which one historian I know refers to as the history of bad ideas), historical sociology, the analysis of literary texts, and that distinctive kind of history practiced by Michel Foucault and also in evidence in the short essay by Paul Veyne. One perspective virtually absent from this collection is the history of science, and since I believe that the history of science has a decisive and irreducible contribution to make to the history of sexuality, it is not accident that I am going to focus on that connection. But the history of sexuality is also an area in which one’s historiography or implicit epistemology will stamp, virtually irrevocably, one’s first-order historical writing. It is an arena in which philosophical and historical concerns inevitably run into one another.
1. Philippe Ariès and Adnré Béjin, eds., Western Sexuality: Practice and Percept in Past and Present Times (Oxford, 1985).
Arnold I. Davidson, a coeditor of Critical Inquiry, is assistant professor of philosophy and member of the Committees on General Studies in the Humanities and on the Conceptual Foundations of Science at the University of Chicago. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, “How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,” appeared in the Winter 1987 issue.
In “Against Theory” we argued that a text means what its author intends it to mean. We argued further that all attempts to found a method of interpretation on a general account of language involve imagining that a text can mean something other than what its author intends. Therefore, we concluded, all such attempts are bound to fail; there can be no method of interpretation. But the attempt to imagine that a text can mean something other than what its author intends is not restricted to writers interested in interpretive method. In fact, the denial that meaning is determined by intention is central to projects as indifferent to method as hermeneutics and deconstruction. For hermeneutics, a text means that its author intends but also necessarily means more, acquiring new meanings as readers apply it to new situations. For deconstruction, an author can never succeed in determining the meaning of a text; every text participates in a code that necessarily eludes authorial control. Since both these projects are committed to the view that a text from mean something other than what its author intends, they are also committed to the view that a text derives its identity from something other than authorial intention. The text is what it is, no matter what meaning is assigned to it by its author and no matter how that meaning is revised by its readers.
What gives a text its autonomous identity? On most accounts, the answer is linguistic conventions—the semantic and syntactic rules of the language in which the text is written. One of our aims in the present essay is to criticize the particular notions of textual identity advanced by hermeneutics and deconstruction, but our more general target is the notion that there can be any plausible criteria of textual identity that can function independent of authorial intention. Because there can be no such criteria, nonmethodological versions of interpretive theory are as incoherent as methodological ones and, like the methodological ones, should be abandoned.
Steven Knapp is associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of Personification and the Sublime: Milton to Coleridge. Walter Benn Michaels, professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism.
The twentieth century began with the deconstruction of the image, as it is ending with the effort to restore it. Cubism, dada, and abstract expressionism took apart what, in their various ways, pop art, magic realism, and neoexpressionism have tried to put back together. Tonality in music and narrative in literature have undergone similar change.1 What has been at stake in each case has been the redefinition of a center, a normative or ordering principle as such. Yeats intuited this general phenomenon in his famous observation that “the center cannot hold,” and though whether one applauds or, with Yeats, condemns the result, it is undeniable that the crisis of contemporary culture has been in large part experienced as a deprivation of norms.
This sense of deprivation has been most apparent in the plastic arts. The fashioning of images has been one of the primary impulses of human art. It has been the basis of most systems of visual representation and constitutes the earliest record we have off art itself. Its loss or abandonment has been in good part responsible for the bewilderment and hostility much of the general public continues to express toward modern art.
The experience of this loss, however, has not been confined to the public alone. For many artists, the sense of modern art’s expressive potential has been tempered by an anxiety about its ultimate direction.2 For these artists, the image had not been transcended but rather rendered inaccessible, and implicitly or explicitly they sought its restoration. At the same time, they were keenly aware that there could be no return to exhausted modes of representation, no looking back except as parody or quotation.3
1. Among the studies comparing changes across the arts in the early twentieth century are Georges Edouard Lemaître, From Cubism to Surrealism in French Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1941), and Bram Dijkstra, The Hieroglyphics of a New Speech: Cubism, Stieglitz, and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams (Princeton, N.J., 1969). More recently, visualization in cubist art and relativity theory has been compared in Linda Dalrymple Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, N.J., 1983). For a general overview, see Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 (Cambridge, Mass., 1983). Marxist critics, notably Walter Benjamin, have long insisted on the relationship between modernism in the arts and the crisis of the traditional order.
2. This is clearly visible in the work and writing of pioneers such as Kandinsky and Klee or, to take a later case, Adolph Gottlieb. The correspondence between Kandinsky and Schönberg is illuminating as well.
3. Much of the neoimagistic art of the past twenty-five years falls into these categories, and thus signals a prolongation rather than a resolution of the crisis. Pop art was clearly an art of parody, while work of an artist such as Malcolm Morley might almost be taken as an illustration of Benjamin’s thesis about the work of art in an age of mechanical reproduction. His “imitations,” like those of Robert Lowell in verse, betray a deep anxiety about mastery and tradition. Much the same can be said for such musical compositions as Lukas Foss’ “Baroque Variations” and “Phorion” or Luciano Berio’s “Sinfonia,” to name but a random few among many.
Robert Zaller is professor of history and head of the department of history and politics at Drexel University. He was formerly on the faculties of Queens College (CUNY), the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Miami. His books include The Parliament of 1621: A Study in Constitutional Conflict and The Cliffs of Solitude: A Reading of Robinson Jeffers.
Poe’s influence on the Symbolists has been traced on many occasions, though not in detail. The classical study in English is Eliot’s “From Poe to Valéry,” a Library of Congress lecture delivered three years after Valéry’s death.2 Eliot defines Poe as irresponsible and immature—irresponsible in style, immature in vision. He had, Eliot comments, “the intellect of a highly gifted young person before puberty”; “all of his ideas seem to be entertained rather than believed” (“FPV,” p. 335). How, then, we ask, did he hoax the sophisticated French? Although Eliot raises the issue of their relative ignorance of English, he prudently does not make much of it: after all, we know that Baudelaire spent seventeen years on the tales, Mallarmé still longer on the poems—thirty years for the definitive text; while Valéry, to whom Baudelaire and Mallarmé left little to translate, managed a version of the Marginalia. Each might have said, as Mallarmé did in 1885, that he had learned English for one sole reason: “to read Poe better.”3 In the matter of linguistic competence, then, Eliot is content to remark that the French poets “were not disturbed by weaknesses of which we are very much aware” (“FPV,” p. 336). He underlines, however, that Poe showed different facets of himself to each of his readers who adopted him in various ways: Baudelaire focused on the Poète maudit, Mallarmé on the prosodist, and Valéry on the theoretician in whom he discovered “a method and an occupation—that of observing himself write” (“FPV,” p. 341). So Poe had a diverse effect, which Eliot accepts more readily in respect of Baudelaire and Mallarmé than he does of Valéry. To explain this last case which intrigues him especially, he introduces a paradox: “with Poe and Valéry, extremes meet,” he writes, “the immature mind playing with ideas because it had not developed to the point of convictions, and the very adult mind playing with ideas because it was too skeptical to hold convictions” (“FPV,” p. 341).
Thus Eliot damns Poe with faint praise. The distance between cause and effect, master and disciples is so vast that it can only be thought the product of monstrous error. And yet “from Poet to Valéry” and the complementary studies in English or French of the past thirty-five years neglect some deeper factors that drew the Symbolists. Misreadings there were no doubt since such are in the nature of things, but these authors were sensitive to currents that others overlooked. They attempted to go to first principles, not only because Poe was “ce poète incomparable, ce philosophe non refute” (Baudelaire)4 and, therefore, worthy of scrutiny, but because they held him to be vital to their future thought. In a period of great social and aesthetic change they found a figure of radical independence—classicist, visionary, logician supreme—whom they explained by convergent tropes of daemonic power. In this regard the newly published correspondence of Mallarmé and the massive Valéry notebooks have added to our knowledge. I would like, then, to consider the nature of Poe’s action, this submerged dialogue in time and successive rewriting by which—“à l’égal de nos maître les plus chers ou vénérés,” as Mallarmé put it5—he entered the mainstream of French poetry.
2. The lecture was later published in Hudson Review 2 (Autumn 1949): 335; all further references to this work, abbreviated “FPV,” will be included in the text.
3. Mallarmé, “Autobiographie,” Oeuvres completes, p. 662.
4. Baudelaire, “Le Poème du hachisch,” Oeuvres complètes, 1:427.
5. Mallarmé, “Scolies,” Oeuvres completes, p. 223.
James Lawler, Edward arson Waller Distinguished Service Professor of French at the University of Chicago, has written extensively on nineteenth- and twentieth-century French poetry. Among his books are Lecture de Valéry, The Language of French Symbolism, The Poet as Analyst, and René Char: The Myth and the Poem. He is currently completing a study of Buadelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal.
The charge of treason and the judgment of insanity have left questions that invariably intrude on an assessment of Pound’s life and work. Critics frequently adopt a strategy of separating the life and the work, but tactical review is often necessary. There is a lightness in Pound’s writing that speaks of a being detached from the concerns of the world. Yet with his economic theory of social credit, his political and racial views, as well as his concern for other writers, he is of the world—in the world and part of it. He was decidedly not tied to geography. He had no region or period, and he was as comfortable in Confucian China as in Dante’s Florence or twentieth-century Rome. He could work anywhere. He wrote The Pisan Cantos while jailed in Italy. The Cantos were published while he was in a mental wart at St. Elizabeths, yet a court found that he could not understand the charges against him. Can such an impairment and such achievement occur at the same time? If you say no, then what of the treason? Did he feign madness to escape punishment? Could Pound have been convicted of treason?
In this paper, I intend to examine what has been loosely referred to as “the trial of Ezra Pound” and to show that Pound’s case should have been brought to trial within one or two years after his commitment to St. Elizabeths because he had a reasonable chance of being found not guilty of treason; even if found guilty, the circumstances in mitigation of a long prison term would have been so evident that he would have likely spent considerably less time in prison than he spent locked up at the mental institution. I will do this, in part, by reviewing the similarities and differences between Pound’s case and three other treason cases that came to trial within the first years after World War II. The English case, Rex v. Joyce, was tried shortly after the close of the war and well before Pound’s competency hearing on 13 February 1945.3 The law applied in Joyce would have led Pound’s lawyer to seek some postponement of trial until the American courts decided whether to follow the English lead. The other two cases involve the Americans, Douglas Chandler and Robert Best, employees of German radio, who were indicted with Pound in 1943.
3. William Joyce was an American who came to be known as “Lord Haw Haw.” He was hanged at Wandsworth, England, 3 Jan. 1946. He was the best known of the “radio traitors.” He began his programs, “This is Jairmany calling,” and would then prophesy the destruction of English towns and cities. The name “Lord Haw Haw” was created by the English journalist, Jonah Barrington, to ridicule Joyce and to make him appear idiotic.
Conrad L. Rushing is a Superior Court Judge in California and an occasional lecturer in law at the University of California, Berkeley. He teaches a course in law and literature at the California Judges College and is a founder of the Sane Jose Poetry Center.
The British journalist Christopher Hitchens has recently noted that the extraordinary excitement created by l’affaire Pound, an excitement sustained for now some forty years, is partly the result of having no fewer than three debates going on whenever the poet’s legal situation and his consequent hospitalization are discussed. As Hitchens says, those questions are: “First, was Pound guilty of treason? If not, or even if so, was he mad? Third, was he given privileged treatment for either condition?”1
I propose to discuss all three issues in a way that fairly reflects the fact that I am neither a physician nor a lawyer. What I know of the state of medical expertise, both today and in the period of time from 1943 (when Pound was indicted on nineteen counts of treason) to 1958 (when he left St. Elizabeths), leads me, as a layman, to believe that there is an enormous latitude of understanding among medical professionals as to the precise meaning of “insanity.” At one extreme, for some distinguished physicians, the term means almost nothing. They see it as a legal term and as therefore irrelevant to them; some of them follow the line of reasoning developed by Thomas Szasz over his long writing career, namely that “mental illness” if not illness in any ordinary sense of the term.2 For other medical practitioners, it does mean something, but only when it is redefined into much smaller subcategories and enriched with much more precise terminology, and when the given patient and his full range of circumstances are considered.
What I know of the legal understanding of insanity (and here I speak as a Californian who has seen some of the most unusual kinds of terrible crime explained away as “madness” while other, apparently similar, crimes have not been eligible for that designation) is that there has been and is now little firm agreement about “insanity” or “madness.” Equally competent juries and courts have been able to set down findings that are more or less plausible on their face but do not seem to comport at all with each other. I tentatively conclude that whatever “insanity” now is in the United States, and whatever it was when Pound was found unfit to stand trial in 1945, the standard is not the lucid simplicity of the M’Naghten test, namely, the ability of the accused to understand the difference between “right” and “wrong.” Human mind, self-awareness, and motivations are vastly more complicated than such a test would imply.
1. Christopher Hitchins, “American Notes,” Times Literary Supplement, 21 Oct. 1983, p. 1160.
2. See Thomas Szasz, Insanity (New York, 1987) for a synthesis of his ideas as formulated in some eighteen books.
See also: Dore Ashton, No More than an Accident?
William M. Chace is professor of English and Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Development at Stanford University. He is author of The Political Identities of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot (1973), Lionel Trilling: Criticism and Politics (1980), and scholarly essays on writers including Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence, and James Joyce. He is now working on a study of the ways in which American culture in this century has been subjected to critical analysis.
… Pound’s Imagist economy often mixes metaphors of capitalization with metaphors of expenditure. Words, he writes in an early essay, are like cones filled with energy, laden with the accumulated (or capitalized?) “power of tradition.” When correctly juxtaposed, these words “radiate” or “discharge” or spend this energy (SP, p. 34), just as the Image (in one of Pound’s most famous formulations) releases “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time” (LE, p. 4). The precise relation of accumulation to expenditure in Pound’s Imagism is never really elaborated. For clarification one would probably have to look toward his theories of sexuality, which hint at a proportion between spermatic retention and intensity of ejaculation. “The liquid solution [of sperm and/or thought],” he writes in his 1921 “Postscript” to Gourmont’s Natural Philosophy of Love, “must be kept at right consistency; one would say the due proportion of liquid to viscous particles, a good circulation; the actual quality of the sieve or separator, counting perhaps most of all; the balance of ejector and retentive media” (PD, p. 214).13 Similar physiological metaphors will shape Pound’s later economic writings of the thirties and forties. Money will function as a kind of “sieve” or “separator” (depending on how porous its mediation is), and usury will be described as malevolent form of retention, an “obstruction” to the proper circulation of money and goods. Economic justice will therefore involve the institution of a correct “balance” or “measure” between accumulation and expenditure, between “ejector” and “retentive media.” From Pound’s later Confucian perspective, excess in either direction—whether it take the form of “smeary hoarding” or extravagant squandering—always leads to evil and disorder.14
Excess is of course what Pound’s Imagist economy most militantly seeks to eliminate from contemporary poetry. Pound writes in 1912, “As to Twentieth-century poetry … it will be harder and saner … ‘nearer the bone.’ It will be as much like granite as it can be … It will not try to seem forcible by rhetorical din, and luxurious riot. We will have fewer painted adjectives impeding the shock and stroke of it…. I want it austere, direct, free from emotional slither” (LE, p. 12). The vocabulary of this passage combines a discernibly American, puritanical suspicion of ornament with a functionalist asceticism that we have come to recognize as a characteristic feature of the international style of high modernism.15 From a postmodernist vantage point, however, we might well question just why the category of excess or surplus represented by “rhetorical din,” “luxurious riot,” or “emotional slither” should be so inevitably construed as negative or uneconomic. Georges Bataille, for one, provides a provocative refutation of this ideology in La Part maudite. The economics he there seeks to define (which is at the same time a linguistics, an erotics, and an anthropology) would instead be based on the valorization of excess, or of what he terms “la dépense improductive,” nonproductive expenditure. Bataille’s “economy of excess” turns on “la perte du proper,” that is, the loss of the literal (or “proper”) to the figurative, the loss of purity (or propriety) to scatological defilement, and the loss of personal identity (one’s “proper” self) to a sacred expropriation by the Other.
13. See also Kevin Oderman’s comments on the importance of delay and deferral to Pound’s troubadour “eroticism of dalliance” in “ ‘Cavalcanti’: That the Body Is Not Evil,” Paideuma 11 (Fall 1982): 257-79. If, according to Pound, the “classic aesthetic” involves “plastic to coitus, plastic plus immediate satisfaction,” Cavalcanti’s cult of Amor instead privileges mental (or spermadic) reterntion, “the fine thing held in the mind,” that is, erotic or mnemonic capitalization. See LE, pp. 150-53.
14. Rabaté, Language, Sexuality, and Ideology, pp. 217-23, similarly links Pound’s “Postscript” to Gourmont to his later economics.
15. Herbert Schneidau, Ezra Pound: The Image and the Real (Baton Rouge, La., 1969), pp. 177-78.
Richard Sieburth is associate professor of French at New York University. He is the author of Instigations: Ezra Pound and Remy de Gourmont (1978) and translator of Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hymns and Fragments (1984). He is currently preparing an edition of Pound’s writings on France.
Anthony van Dyck’s period of service to the Stuart court stretches from 1632, when he was appointed “principalle Paynter in ordinary to their Majesties” and knighted, to his death at the end of 1641. After an earlier visit of a few months, beginning in December 160, van Dyck had gone to Italy to improve himself; there he had defected from the service of James I. On his return to England this was forgiven, and in the early years he was mainly employed in making portraits of the royal family and household. Later he was again absent from England, spending an entire year beginning in July 1634 back in Antwerp. During the last six years van Dyck spent in England, his clientele widened further; it is chiefly the portraits of this latter period that I will consider here.
These portraits have been approached and evaluated in two basic ways. First of all, they have been taken to demonstrate the adaptation of van Dyck’s preexisting skills, especially his command of the “grand style,” to the requirements of a court and aristocracy which prized grace and elegance as hallmarks of breeding and quality, and which at the same time welcomed the trappings of grandeur and the subtleties of variation, in costume, post, and gesture, that the artist could build into his presentation for their predilection.1 Second, where critical considerations have come up, these paintings have been evaluated in terms of whether the adoption of mannered and decorative traits now betokens a decline from the artist’s previous work, or whether it represents rather a different kind of achievement which gave rise, at its best, to equally outstanding successes in conveying refined and subtly enhanced distinction.2
But both these approaches agree in finding no intellectual content in the works in question, either of van Dyck’s own devising or based on interests and concerns in which his subjects partook. This absence of implication to the portraits is seem as fitting with thea rtist’s tendency to make creative decisions on an ad hoc basis, as evidenced by his preference for rapidly made drawings from the life over the use of oil sketches and by the pentimenti that his finished works reveal.3 It is also seen as fitting with the whole pattern—cultural as well as social and economic—of his relationship to the Stuart aristocrazy, for which these images were fashioned.
1. See esp. Ellis Water house, Painting in Britain, 1530-1790 (Harmondsworth, 1953), pp. 49-50 (where the basic documentation for the years in England is given); and cf. more recently Christopher Brown, Van Dyck (Oxford, 1982_, p. 192 (on Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart).
2. See, for example, Erik Larsen, intro. to L’opera completa di Van Dyck 1626-1641 (Milan, 1980), p. 8 and Oliver Millar, intro. to exhibition catalog Van Dyck in England (National Portrait Gallery, London, Nov. 1982-Mar. 1983), p. 27 and esp. p. 31 (attributing a decline, only toward the close of a long career, to illness and the pressure of commissions).
3. See Millar, Van Dyck in England, p. 31, citing the miniaturist Richard Gibson on the “Sketches made from the life,” mainly lost, and cat. no. 12, on the pentimenti found in the 1633 Charles I on Horseback.
Mark Roskill is professor of the history of modern art at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His most recent book is The Interpretation of Cubism (1985). Previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “On the Recognition and Identification of Objects in Paintings” (Summer 1977) and “A Reply to John Reichert and Stanley Fish” (Winter 1979).
[…] Open the pages of almost any national journal or magazine, and where ten years ago one found only one or another kind of free verse lyric, one now finds well rhymed quatrains, sestinas, villanelles, sonnets, and blank verse dramatic monologues or meditations.1 In a recent issue of the New Criterion, Robert Richman describes this rekindled interest in formal verse among younger poets as a return to the high seriousness, eloquence, and technical fluency that characterized the best achievements of American poetry forty years ago.2 As Mr. Richman numbers me among the younger poets working in form, I ought to be as cheered by these developments as he is. Yet I am anything but cheered. And not because I don’t want to belong to club that would have me as a member, though this may be a part of it; but because I suspect that what Mr. Richman hails as a development may in fact be nothing but a mechanical reaction, and that the new formalists, in rejecting the sins of their experimental fathers may end up merely repeating the sings of their New Critical grandfathers, resuscitating the stodgy, overrefined conventions of the “fifties poem,” conventions which were of course sufficiently narrow and restrictive to provoke rebellion in the first place. Any reform, carried to uncritical extremes by lesser talents who ignore rather than try to assimilate the achievements of their predecessors, will itself require reformation. If James Wright, say, or Robert Bly, produced more than their fair share of imitators, if they even imitate themselves much of the time, they nonetheless have written poems all of us can and ought to learn from. Maybe we have had too much of the “raw” in recent years. But the answer to the raw is not the overcooked. Besides, it’s dangerous to think we have to choose exclusively between free verse and form. The wider the range of styles and forms that we avail ourselves of, the more enriched, more flexible and inclusive our expressive resources will be. It’s as important for those who work in form to be familiar with the experiments and innovatins of the last hundred years as it is for those who work in looser measures to be familiar with traditional verse forms that go back beyond the twentieth century.
Alan Shapiro’s most recent book of poems, Happy Hour, was published this year.