The Resistance to Poetry

The Resistance to Poetry

by James Longenbach
     
 

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Poems inspire our trust, argues James Longenbach in this bracing work, because they don't necessarily ask to be trusted. Theirs is the language of self-questioning—metaphors that turn against themselves, syntax that moves one way because it threatens to move another. Poems resist themselves more strenuously than they are resisted by the cultures receiving…  See more details below

Overview

Poems inspire our trust, argues James Longenbach in this bracing work, because they don't necessarily ask to be trusted. Theirs is the language of self-questioning—metaphors that turn against themselves, syntax that moves one way because it threatens to move another. Poems resist themselves more strenuously than they are resisted by the cultures receiving them.

But the resistance to poetry is quite specifically the wonder of poetry. Considering a wide array of poets, from Virgil and Milton to Dickinson and Glück, Longenbach suggests that poems convey knowledge only inasmuch as they refuse to be vehicles for the efficient transmission of knowledge. In fact, this self-resistance is the source of the reader's pleasure: we read poetry not to escape difficulty but to embrace it.

An astute writer and critic of poems, Longenbach makes his case through a sustained engagement with the language of poetry. Each chapter brings a fresh perspective to a crucial aspect of poetry (line, syntax, figurative language, voice, disjunction) and shows that the power of poetry depends less on meaning than on the way in which it means—on the temporal process we negotiate in the act of reading or writing a poem. Readers and writers who embrace that process, Longenbach asserts, inevitably recoil from the exaggeration of the cultural power of poetry in full awareness that to inflate a poem's claim on our attention is to weaken it.

A graceful and skilled study, The Resistance to Poetry honors poetry by allowing it to be what it is. This book arrives at a critical moment—at a time when many people are trying to mold and market poetry into something it is not.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
It is axiomatic that poetry resists our attempts to make sense of it. Here, Longenbach argues that the language of poetry resists itself even more than its readers and by doing so conquers our resistance to its obscurity. He argues further that the accessibility of much contemporary poetry has replaced "inwardness"-the thing that makes it poetry. Both a poet himself (e.g., Fleet River) and the author of major studies on poetry (e.g., Modern Poetry After Modernism), Longenbach offers an argument that runs counter to Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks's Understanding Poetry (1950). We read poetry not to understand, he counters, but "to experience the sensation, the sound, of words leaping just beyond our capacity to know them certainly." Discovering in a poem something strange in what we thought familiar, we draw fresh wonder at the alien beauty of our own becoming in the world. Longenbach's spare method is that of the poet, his careful exposition like that of a poem. Both academic and public libraries should make room for this beautiful little book.-Vince Brewton, Univ. of North Alabama Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
The Nation - John Palattella

"[An] intelligent, elegant and valuable defense of poetry."

Choice
Named "Outstanding Academic Title" by Choice
Poetry - Brian Phillips

"Throughout nine small and expertly constellated essays, Longenbach demonstrates that poems are a form of thinking: a resistance to the clear-cut, uncomplicated thought that tries to pin them down as statements....A compact and exponentially provocative book."
Redactions

"This is a book of poetics, & a brilliant book of poetics it is. . . . There is not a dull, unintelligent, unimaginative point in this book. You will learn from Longenbach. This book will make you love poetry more."
South Atlantic Review - David Garrison

"Longenbach's ear for the artistic workings of many, many poems is instructive. He is especially good at displaying Stephens and Bishop. His ability to teach us about the choices writers make--and why they make them--is also instructive. Page by page, Resistance toPoetry teaches us to be better readers."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226492513
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
08/07/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
144
File size:
175 KB

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Meet the Author

James Longenbach is the Joseph Henry Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester and the author of four distinguished critical studies of modern literature, most recently Modern Poetry after Modernism. His two books of poems, Threshold and Fleet River, are published by the University of Chicago Press.

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