James Longenbach’s The Resistance to Poetry (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 4/5, which was published circa early 2005.

//James Longenbach – The Resistance to Poetry

After reading the first paragraph of “Preface” in James Longenbach’s The Resistance to Poetry (University of Chicago Press, 2004), I was ready to have a page-by-page argument with Longenbach. I thought his premise was not well-founded. His argument, or apology, is interesting: “Poetry is it own best enemy” & “Poetry’s mechanisms of self-resistance are themselves the source of our pleasure.” One of the premises on which he builds his argument is:

Poets who embrace these aspects of language are inevitably schooled in the art of self-resistance, and they consequently tend to recoil from any exaggeration of the cultural power of writing poems. At their most brazen, these poets have erred on the side of underestimating their art, aware that to exaggerate the extent of poetry’s purchase on attention is to weaken it.

But after I got into chapter one & after I finished chapter two, my attitude towards the book changed. I was not resistant to it, I was embracing it. I was learning. I was realizing & would conclude after finishing the book that Longenbach’s argument is not really the big point of the book, in my mind. I think Longenbach uses the argument so that he may discuss the beauty of poetry – the complex beauty of its inner workings –; the argument allows him to push forward in sharing his understanding of poetry. This is a book of poetics, & a brilliant book of poetics it is. Chapter two, “The End of the Line,” is an enthralling, in-depth study on the relation of line, syntax, & rhythm of free verse. This is the chapter that made me give myself to the book because I was learning, & on its own this chapter makes the book completely worthwhile. Another chapter, “The Other Hand,” is devoted to the use of “or” & its many implications & resulting effects. The chapter concludes: “‘Or’ is our means of defending ourselves against our own strength.”

Each chapter James Longenbach’s The Resistance to Poetry has a specific aspect to study & can stand on its own. Each chapter is tonally enjoyable & insightful. There is not a dull, unintelligent, unimaginative point in this book. You will learn from Longenbach. This book will make you love poetry more, & it may even make you a better poet.//




Longenbach, James. The Resistance to Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.//

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