Posts Tagged ‘University of Chicago Press

30
Jan
13

James Longenbach’s Draft of a Letter (2007)

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 10, which was published circa April 2007.

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James Longenbach – Draft of a LetterIn a previous issue of Redactions, we put out the question, “Can you use ‘soul’ in contemporary poetry?” Many poets responded with fine answers. Somehow Longenbach got wind of this question, as he mentioned in a reading at Writers & Books in Rochester, NY, & though he didn’t respond to the question through Redactions, he did respond. Longenbach, instead, explored using “soul” in poetry in Draft of a Letter (University of Chicago Press), & he succeeded. He affirmed what most of our responders said to the question said: Yes.

It’s not like every poem has “soul” in it, but, ah, they all have soul. You can feel it in the lines. The slow lines with long pauses at their ends. The implication of each line is: “Hey, reader/listener, read & listen. When my line ends, hold on to it for a moment. There’s more magic that will happen if you stop before making the turn. The unexplainable occurs here. Listen to the reverberations. Listen for the echo of the line that is about to arrive.” And then Longenbach, in a way, tells us this in these lines, which are not directly about poetry:

   In time,
   Without trying,
   I found a rhythm
   Of thought ineffably
   Hesitant, serene.
                              (“Draft of a Letter”)

I also want to mention one more thing that I hadn’t planned to talk about until I read Christian Wiman’s Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet [which appears in an earlier review]. My first encounters with Longenbach were his critical books on poetry and Modernism. All very good and intelligent, which you can gather from an early review/celebration of mine in Redactions on The Resistance to Poetry. Between that review and Draft of a Letter, I read Fleet River, which is a fine book of narrative poems, with wonderful vertical moments ( that is, Li-Young Lee vertical moments and not the vertical moment I mention in the Dan Gerber A Primer on Parallel Lives celebration/review). So Wiman says two things:

I have little patience for people who see the application of critical intelligence as somehow inimical to poetic creation. (p 61)

The worth of a poet’s critical awareness will have been determined by the truth and intensity of the poetic activity that preceded it, the depth to which he descended in his poems. (p 62)

I agree totally with those two statements, and I’m overwhelmed when a person can both be critically intelligent and have intense poems, especially when the poems are accessible. And Longenbach does this. The poems in Draft of a Letter are accessible with a music of tones and with rhythms of a soul that have found depth, or a person who found the depths of his soul.

Yes, Longenbach can play both sides of the ball, well.//

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Longenbach, James. Draft of a Letter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.//

29
Dec
12

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.//

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




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