Rehder, Robert, and Patrick Vincent (eds.). 2006. American Poetry. Whitman to the Present. SPELL 18.

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Table of Contents



Introduction                                                                                11


Louis J. Kern (Hofstra)

“The United States Themselves [Are] Essentially the Greatest

Poem”: Fraternity, Personalism, and a New World Metaphysics

in Democratic Vistas                                                                       21


William Dow (American University of Paris)

Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass: The Incarnational and

“Hard Work and Blood”                                                                                     35


Viorica Patea (Salamanca)

Pound and Eliot’s Sense of History and Tradition as Re-Lived

Experience                                                                                 53


Mike W. Malm (Munich)

The Abstract and the Historical: Structure in Ezra Pound’s

The Fifth Decad of Cantos                                                                71


Ronald Bush (Oxford)

Art Versus the Descent of the Iconoclasts: Cultural Memory

in Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos                                                         87


Philipp Schweighauser (Berne)

An Anthropologist at Work: Ruth Benedict’s Poetry                        113


Abigail Lang (Paris 7)

How to End a Life-Work: Louis Zukofsky’s Indexes                         127


Micah Mattix (Neuchâtel)

Naming Things: Frank O’Hara and “The Day Lady Died”                         139



Stephen Fredman (Notre Dame)

Surrealism Meets Kabbalah: The Place of Semina in

Mid-Century California Poetry                                                      151


Matilde Martín González (La Laguna)

Gender Politics and the Making of Anthologies:

Towards a Theory of Women’s Poetry                                          175


Erika Scheidegger (Geneva)

Poetry as Mother Tongue? Lorna Dee Cervantes’ Emplumada            193


Wesley McNair (Maine-Farmington)

Four Poems                                                                                209


Robert Rehder (Fribourg)

Five Poems                                                                                 219


Notes on Contributors                                                                231


Index of Names                                                                                     235



“The United States Themselves [Are] Essentially the Greatest Poem”: Fraternity, Personalism, and a New World Metaphysics in Democratic Vistas


Louis J. Kern



Although Whitman’s Democratic Vistas (1871) has often been considered his reaction to Thomas Carlyle’s acerbic critique of popular democracy, Shooting Niagara: And After? (1867), neither its basic arguments nor its broader philosophical concerns were influenced or provoked by Carlyle. Many of the essay’s main lines of argument were anticipated in precedent editions of Leaves of Grass and the text of his Blue Book (1860-61). The evolution of  the text can also be traced to three preliminary drafts, the essays  “Democracy” (1867), “Personalism” (1868), published in The Galaxy, and the unpublished “Orbic Literature.” This paper traces the process through which Whitman transformed these materials into the final text of Democratic Vistas and reconsiders the validity of the presumption of Whitman’s uncritically optimistic faith in a nation in the process of becoming an ideal, inclusive democracy.


Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass: The Incarnational and “Hard Work and Blood”


William Dow



Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855) elaborates some of the material underpinnings informing what might be called the “semantic complex” of class (i.e., the combined histories of narrative and socioeconomic change that converge in its emergence) on which the poem relies for its effect. Whitman’s class representations depend on an anti-narrative, incarnational discourse through which he formulated, within the context of the turbulent 1850-67 culture, an essentially discursive concept of class as part of his cultural program of social inclusion, co-existence, and relations other than those of hierarchy, literariness, elitism, and classification. At the same time, I argue, Whitman’s incarnational view, much of it derived from Emerson, highlights the contradictory class and psychological tensions in his conception of self. Whitman, is, after all, “one of the roughs,” the basic identity in Leaves of Grass that he attributes to his working-class persona. As a worker among many other workers, Whitman’s poet, a mixture of buoyant self-exposure and anxious assertion, follows his obsession with social, sexual, and racial exchanges, and asserts his commitment to lower-middle class respectability and independence.

Pound and Eliot’s Sense of History and

 Tradition as Re-Lived Experience


Viorica Patea



Based on Pound and Eliot’s theoretical formulations and poetics, the present paper argues that their sense of history and tradition is not an archaeological reconstruction, but an act of interpretation, which enhances the horizons of selfhood while engaging a dialogue with a bygone other. Unlike postmodernism, modernism did not conceive of anteriority as a rupture with the past nor a slaying of father figures, but of an existential valorization of tradition. Pound and Eliot’s notion of tradition is that of a cubist historiography of perpetually varying cultural alignments, synthesized in the consciousness of the present. Their poetics focus on the problematic relationship between the interpreter and the past. History is conceived as a re-lived experience, made possible by the visionary imagination. Pound and Eliot’s historical reconstructions reveal the relative character of knowledge, limited by our perceptions and our socio-historical context. Moreover, they lead to awareness of an existing complex of transcultural universals. Eliot’s concept of tradition is partly influenced by Bradley’s notion of experience as an originally unified whole and by the idea that meaning is not autonomous and depends on an order of relationships. Eliot and Pound’s ideal order of atemporal monuments is not a closed, static system of fixed standards of value, but a live continuum open to change and in need of constant interpretation.

The Abstract and the Historical: Structure in Ezra

Pound’s The Fifth Decad of Cantos



Mike W. Malm



The essay defines the “Fifth Decad” as a montage and collage text whose more diachronic than synchronic form does not strictly adhere to the rules of traditional, chronological narrative and historiography. Rather, the structure of the text is governed by programmatic, expressive and rhetorical purposes. Devices like parallelisms and antitheses often serve to intensify messages embedded in the poems. Pound also borrows structural models, e.g. from Chinese poetry, to underline specific messages. The “Fifth Decad” as a whole makes use of certain archetypal subjects, like usury or the godlike intellect of leaders. Those subjects are presented and developed on different levels of a hierarchy ranging from the abstract to the historical realization. Thus Pound designed the overall structure of the decad very much as a programmatic artist.

Art Versus the Descent of the Iconoclasts:

Cultural Memory in Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos



Ronald Bush



Begun during the allied bombing of Italy, Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos is a product of the defeat of Fascism and of Pound’s own breakdown. Memory plays a central role in this wartime suite, an effort at resurrection of self-hood but also an attempt to create an earthly paradise inspired by Guido Calvacanti and purified of the commercial and abstract practices of Allied and Semitic “iconoclasm.” But Pound’s theorizing of a “resurgent EIKONEΣ” violates this vision by advocating potential readers not to seek images from the war, and by associating his paradise with the memory of Fascism’s martyrs alongside that of figures from Antiquity.


An Anthropologist at Work:

Ruth Benedict’s Poetry



Philipp Schweighauser



Ruth Benedict, an influential twentieth-century anthropologist best known for her Patterns of Culture (1934), has written a considerable range of poems, a good number of which have been published in dis-tinguished poetry journals such as Monroe’s Poetry. Considering her double interest in poetry and anthropology and her use of modernist poetic techniques, this writer’s works are privileged sites for an interrogation of the complex relations between cultural alterity (ethnic otherness) and poetic alterity (poeticity, literariness). Benedict emerges as a modernist poet of a different sort. Her rhymes and religious subject matter testify to her rootedness in nineteenth-century aesthetics, but her complex interweaving of cultural and poetic forms of alterity place her at the heart of a modernist enterprise, whose frantic search for new forms of artistic expression has from its beginnings been bound up with a sustained interest in the language and practices of cultural others.


How to End a Life-Work:

Louis Zukofsky’s Indexes



Abigail Lang



The paper examines the indexes in “A” and Bottom: On Shakespeare, the two major works of Louis Zukofsky. Why would a poet add an index to a poem? By considering various approaches to the index, from its use as a tool to be consulted casually and for cross-referencing to the other extreme, as a text in its own right, the paper elucidates the effects of the index and shows how it participates in Zukofsky’s poetics. The idea for an index is rooted in Zukofsky’s early conception of the word as unit. An enactment of this theory is found in Bottom; how Zukofsky reads Shakespeare suggests ways of reading Zukofsky. The “graph of culture” that Zukofsky attempts in Bottom could well be held as the matrix of the index, now seen as a table, a list of abscissae and ordinates. Finally, indexes provide an answer to the question of ending and function as signatures.

Naming Things: Frank O’Hara

and “The Day Lady Died”



Micah Mattix



Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died” (1959) is one of his most recognized and difficult poems because of the way O’Hara uses simple statements to name the things and events of his lunch hour. Most critics who have attempted to provide an explanation of such simple language in a poem have argued that it is formulated in reaction against what was considered to be poetic language in American poetry in the 1940s and 50s. It will be argued, however, that more than a mere negative endeavor, O’Hara’s naming of the things and events of his lunch hour in “The Day Lady Died” is both an attempt to provide an authentic elegy and a statement of the value of the experience of things and the value of art in evoking and organizing past feelings.

Surrealism Meets Kabbalah: The Place of Semina

in Mid-Century California Poetry and Art


Stephen Fredman


Taking Surrealism and Kabbalah as central features of Semina, a journal produced by Wallace Berman in California from 1955-1964, this essay first looks at the larger poetics involved in Berman’s creation of an artistic context within the California arts scene, then focuses upon the influence of Artaud, who led the Semina poets and artists into Mexico in search of peyote. The second half explores Robert Duncan’s advocacy of Kabbalah and his incorporation of it in his own poetry, especially in the volume entitled Letters, then considers the ways in which Berman, Hirschman, and Meltzer adopted Kabbalah as an improvisatory compositional practice. Combining Surrealism and the occult with the political anarchism rampant in California after World War II, Berman and the poets and artists associated with Semina fostered a richly creative milieu that played an important part in generating much of what is distinctive about California art and culture.

Gender Politics and the Making of Anthologies: Towards a Theory of Women’s Poetry.


Matilde Martín González


The treatment received by women in anthologies of innovative poetry in the last decades evinces a gender politics that has conditioned the selection and choices made. Both the inclusions and the omissions have yielded relevant consequences as far as the institutionalization of some of these poets is concerned. Logically enough, those who regularly figure in anthologies have achieved academic notoriety and critical attention, something that would otherwise have been difficult. On the other hand, it has become increasingly arduous to explain the absence of some women poets from the most outstanding anthologies. I will address issues of anthology and gender politics as they have come to bear on the literary career and public/academic recognition of Hilda Morley and Joanne Kyger, whose poetry can be said to be altogether different, and yet whose literary evolutions show surprisingly common features in their relationship with the milieu out of which they grew as writers.

Poetry as Mother Tongue?

Lorna Dee Cervantes’s Emplumada


Erika Scheidegger


The only poem entirely written in Spanish in Emplumada faces its corresponding autobiographical poem “The Refugee Ship,” composed in English except for the last line. Although many Chicano/a writers regularly perform such code-switching routines or translate passages for the sake of their largely English-speaking readership, Lorna Dee Cervantes offers a yet different insight into such practices: the English version of the poem was actually printed many years before the Spanish one. As a consequence of linguicide, the poet was prevented from learning her mother’s tongue as a child. This essay examines how the trauma of being “raised without a language” (41) is inscribed formally, through rhythm and syntax, in the collection of poems Emplumada, and suggests ways in which poetry can surmount difficult social and linguistic obstacles.

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