The Secret of Poetry

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Sixteen essays by a founder and leading poet-critic of the New Narrative/New Formalist revival explore poetry and religion, the legacy of Stevens, Robinson, Frost, and Jeffers, and poetry by contemporaries such as Justice and Graham.
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Sixteen essays by a founder and leading poet-critic of the New Narrative/New Formalist revival explore poetry and religion, the legacy of Stevens, Robinson, Frost, and Jeffers, and poetry by contemporaries such as Justice and Graham.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
American thinking is best summed up by William James's pragmatism, says prize-winning poet Jarman (Questions for Ecclesiastes; English, Vanderbilt Univ.). So, he argues, Modernist masters like Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams tend to be pragmatic to the core, and such living poets as Charles Wright, C.K. Williams, and Philip Levine also give their readers "the fact of finitude, that sense of the nothingness beyond that [which] gives our lives dignity and meaning." All poetry hides something, in other words, but the secret in American poetry must always be revealed in "undeniable terms," as in poet Jon Anderson's assertion that "The secret of poetry is cruelty," a line Jarman praises as "bracing, honest, exact, and meant in its context to cut through stock responses to death and love." Among Jarman's favorite poets are those he calls "the three Rs": Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, and Robinson Jeffers, creators, respectively, of the short, medium, and long narrative poem on which today's narrative poets model their work. Half of his book is devoted to wide-ranging essays, while the rest consists of reviews containing startling insights into the work of such contemporaries as John Ashbery and Jorie Graham. There is also a wistful piece on his attempt to teach critical theory from Roland Barthes's Saussurean demythologizing of contemporary bourgeois myths to the "sublime baloney" of Stanley Fish's reader-response theory to working-class students to whom political freedom is more germane. Taking his own advice, Jarman is nothing if not specific in his writing and thinking. To him, the secret of good criticism is a sense of history and of context, of knowing where poems come from and how poets read each other. David Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This volume of previously published commentary on poetry by Jarman (a poet, he teaches English at Vanderbilt U. in Nashville, Tennessee) contains essays on the relationship between poetry and religion, the legacies of Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, E.A. Robinson, Robinson Jeffers; and critiques of current trends in poetry by Donald Justice, Jorie Graham, and others. Jarman's writing is both passionate and clearly expressed, making this a useful text for undergraduate courses and non-specialists, as well as other academics. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586540050
  • Publisher: Story Line Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2001
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.95 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Poetry and Religion 13
Ch. 2 Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Possum: The Americanness of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot 46
Ch. 3 John & Randall, Randall & John 66
Ch. 4 In Memory of Orpheus: Three Elegies by Donald Justice 83
Ch. 5 Robinson, Frost, and Jeffers, and the New Narrative Poetry 93
Ch. 6 Aspects of Robinson 105
Ch. 7 Sheathed in Reality: The Fact of Clare Walker in Robinson Jeffers' 'The Loving Shepherdess' 114
Ch. 8 Letter from Leeds 120
Ch. 9 Singers and Storytellers 131
Ch. 10 A Scale of Engagement, from Self to Form Itself 146
Ch. 11 The Pragmatic Imagination and the Secret of Poetry 156
Ch. 12 Narrative Beauty 172
Ch. 13 The Grammar of Glamour 185
Ch. 14 The Curse of Discursiveness 198
Ch. 15 Shifting Sands: The Columbia History of American Poetry 208
Ch. 16 Solving for X: The Collected Poetry and Prose of Wallace Stevens 216
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2001

    A very thought-provoking book

    I found Mark Jarman's book of essays, _The Secret of Poetry_, to be very rewarding, both in the actual experience of reading the book and in the essays' tendency to resonate in my mind since then. The book is one of those gems in which literary analysis becomes not only intellectually interesting and informative, but enjoyable as well. Jarman's ability to find new, relevant issues in the writing of prominent poets and his insightful exploration of his subject matter help to give this book the weight of genuine importance that so many books ultimately do not have. Fans of Jarman's poetry will recognize his characteristic wit in surprising (and often delightfully subtle) moments in this collection of prose. Although I had read poems by most of the writers to whom Jarman refers, there were also many times in which Jarman referenced either specific poems or poets I was not familiar with. I was pleasantly surprised that I still felt engaged when reading essays that dealt with works unfamiliar to me. Jarman must have a talent for precisely contextualizing poems and poets, because I was not left feeling lost; in fact, I have found that the essays made certain writings seem so intriguing that I have felt compelled to read several of them since then. For me, the most unique aspect of _The Secret of Poetry_ is how it offers so many potential secrets of poetry. This aspect makes it feel like Jarman is inviting the reader along on a search rather than simply stating his own conclusions. Although Jarman frankly gives his own opinions about what the secret of poetry may be, there is also a definite sense that he wants his readers to consider the question on their own.

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