The Complicities of Genre and Greatness

1978. Ekbert Faas in Towards A New American Poetics on dramatic monologue via Robert Bly

To be sure, Bly’s criticism, if taken cum grano salis, is not entirely irrelevant. For a poet using personæ without the techniques of multiperspective fragmentation developed by Pound, Eliot, and Williams, or without the self-transcendence achieved by D. H. Lawrence, somehow remains caught within a closed ego system. In other words, it seems doubtful whether anybody writing in the second half of this century can adopt a genre as obsolete as the dramatic monologue without falling into patterns, clichés, and sentiments typical of a previous age and alien to our literary sensibility as well as to our understanding of man in our time. And indeed, if poems such as “Slave Quarters” [by James Dickey] avoid these pitfalls by the compelling urgency of their subject and sheer technical brilliance, there are other poems by Dickey which sound like unintentional parodies of Browning. Keats’ prophetic notion of the “chameleon poet” without a personality found an embodiment, appropriate for its time, in the Victorian poet and the proliferating multitude of “men and women” he projected in his dramatic lyrics. But modern man has learned to see his ego as immersed in Jung’s collective unconsciousness, as only another object or event in Whitehead’s open-ended universe of interrelated forces, or even as the final emptiness of Eastern philosophy. And it is possible that no great poetry can be written now which precludes an awareness of such insights.

2012. B.A. Nichols and H.F. Tucker in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics – 4th Edition

[I]n later generations Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery renewed the discrepancy between poet and speaker by spinning the psychological thread of monologue to a virtually clinical fineness. To rehistoricize this tradition and highlight its political subtexts has been the achievement of such contemporary poets as Richard Howard, Frank Bidart, Ai, and Carol Ann Duffy.

So we are sent back to Keats [Letter to Richard Woodhouse, October 27th, 1818]

What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the camelion Poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is continually in for—and filling some other Body—The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute—the poet has none; no identity—he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures […] When I am in a room with People if I ever am free from speculating on creations of my own brain, then not myself goes home to myself: but the identity of every one in the room begins so to press upon me that I am in a very little time annihilated – not only among Men; it would be the same in a Nursery of children

Camel. Lion. Camelion.

And so for day 1539
01.03.2011

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