New Theory For American Poetry / Edition 1

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Overview

Amid gloomy forecasts of the decline of the humanities and the death of poetry, Angus Fletcher, a wise and dedicated literary voice, sounds a note of powerful, tempered optimism. He lays out a fresh approach to American poetry at large, the first in several decades, expounding a defense of the art that will resonate well into the new century.

Breaking with the tired habit of treating American poets as the happy or rebellious children of European romanticism, Fletcher uncovers a distinct lineage for American poetry. His point of departure is the fascinating English writer, John Clare; he then centers on the radically American vision expressed by Emerson and Walt Whitman. With Whitman this book insists that "the whole theory and nature of poetry" needs inspiration from science if it is to achieve a truly democratic vista. Drawing variously on Complexity Theory and on fundamentals of art and grammar, Fletcher argues that our finest poetry is nature-based, environmentally shaped, and descriptive in aim, enabling poets like John Ashbery and other contemporaries to discover a mysterious pragmatism.

Intense, resonant, and deeply literary, this account of an American poetics shows how today's consumerist and conformist culture subverts the imagination of a free people. While centering on American vision, the argument extends our horizon, striking a blow against all economically sanctioned attacks upon the finer, stronger human capacities. Poetry, the author maintains, is central to any coherent vision of life.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe

This is work of serious scholarship, a theory and defense of poetry that at once reveals and revels in the power and beauty of nature-based, descriptive verse.
— Barbara Fisher

American Literature
Fletcher foregrounds a distinctly American vision of poetry, placing its roots not in European romanticism but in the works of Emerson and Whitman. He argues, along with Whitman, that poetry is inspired by science and shaped by nature. Fletcher's Americanist perspective does not, however, preclude an understanding of the global impact of poetry and its centrality to the experience of human life in the broadest sense.
Harvard Review

In A New Theory for American Poetry, Fletcher may not have explained everything about his subject but what he has explained is enough to occupy most minds for a long time. By being so pliant itself, the book bends us with brilliance toward the work of the poets it reads...Many thanks to Fletcher for reshaping our critical posture.
— Andrew DuBois

Year's Work in English Studies
The year 2004 saw the publication of some ambitious critical works, perhaps none more so than Angus Fletcher's A New Theory for American Poetry. The work blends criticism with poetics in setting out an account of what Fletcher sees as the distinctive achievements of American poetry, and an argument for how poets might continue to achieve the expression of a sense of "getting along within a population," crafting a democratic "gathering of energies" in order to explore how "we adapt to the environments into which we are thrown by life." It includes detailed critical engagements with poets running from Whitman to the present day. The study of John Ashbery is particularly notable.
Helen Vendler
Angus Fletcher defines a poetics for the twenty-first century by means of a very original collection of John Clare, Walt Whitman, and John Ashbery as Environmental Poets -- poets, that is, who embrace the horizontal rather than the vertical, the non-teleological rather than the progressive, and the democratic rather than the hierarchical.
Jonathan Bate
Angus Fletcher restores the imagination, the aesthetic, the emotions and the natural world to critical discourse, while at the same time attending to some of the most significant developments in scientific thinking, notably ecology and chaos theory.
Robert Faggen
A powerful argument for a kind of poetics that represents and modern American consciousness. Fletcher does not argue for a poetry of environmental consciousness in the sense of political or ideological advocacy. One of the most pleasantly polemical aspects of the book is its rigorous adherence to a kind of formalism wonderfully attentive to what makes poetry unique and profound.
Susan Stewart
This book will be an illumination to readers of poetry and an inspiration to those who write it. It truly brings news--Fletcher has climbed to the top of the mast and found there, revealed at last, the curvature of the world.
Harold Bloom
Fletcher's new book is the crown of his career: bold, original, brimming with imaginative energy on every page. One doesn't have to agree with his interpretations of John Clare, Walt Whitman, and John Ashbery (I myself do not) to benefit enormously from reading Fletcher. He is an Orphic seer, a curious universal scholar of Renaissance vintage, a fusion of the best traits of Northrop Frye and Kenneth Burke, his true peers.
Richard Howard
In this prophetic work, Angus Fletcher reminds us that when Whitman speaks of theory "he does not mean anything like what scholars have been calling 'theory' ever since about 1965." He means poetics, and so does Fletcher. In his New Theory he reveals the revolutionary powers of poetic vision. This is done with no grinding of gears, no milling of rhetoric - no machinery at all. It is all thinking, and insight, and even a strange hilarity, as Fletcher imagines what our (American) poetry will be - will have to be (as it has been and become) or not be at all. I read this great theorist and discover again, again and anew, answers to our students' tormented questions: what is the good, the value, the use of poetry?
John Hollander
This is one of the most important books about poetic imagination of the past half-century. Lucid, generous in scholarly breadth, Fletcher analyzes our ideas of personal autonomy and political dependency. The book contains some of the most original discussions of John Clare, Walt Whitman, and John Ashbery I have ever seen. Fletcher's own independent energies and philosophical learning help shape a brilliant exploration of environment and its representation.
Boston Globe - Barbara Fisher
This is work of serious scholarship, a theory and defense of poetry that at once reveals and revels in the power and beauty of nature-based, descriptive verse.
Harvard Review - Andrew Dubois
In A New Theory for American Poetry, Fletcher may not have explained everything about his subject but what he has explained is enough to occupy most minds for a long time. By being so pliant itself, the book bends us with brilliance toward the work of the poets it reads...Many thanks to Fletcher for reshaping our critical posture.
Boston Globe
This is work of serious scholarship, a theory and defense of poetry that at once reveals and revels in the power and beauty of nature-based, descriptive verse.
— Barbara Fisher
Harvard Review
In A New Theory for American Poetry, Fletcher may not have explained everything about his subject but what he has explained is enough to occupy most minds for a long time. By being so pliant itself, the book bends us with brilliance toward the work of the poets it reads...Many thanks to Fletcher for reshaping our critical posture.
— Andrew DuBois
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019881
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 332
  • Product dimensions: 0.74 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 8.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Angus Fletcher is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York Graduate School.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

1. Clare's Horizon

2. The Argument of Form

3. Description

4. Ashbery's Clare

5. Diurnal Knowledge

6. The Whitman Phrase

7. The Environment-Poem

8. Waves and the Troping of Poetic Form

9. Middle Voice

10. Ashbery and the Becoming of the Poem

11. Meditating Chaos and Complexity

12. The Long Amazing and Unprecedented Way

13. Coherence

14. Precious Idiosyncrasy: An Epilogue

Notes

Index

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