a debate about being numerous


Being Numerous addresses a set of interdependent problems in the history, theory, and politics of recent Anglo-American poetry. In it, I offer a challenge and an alternative to a nearly unanimous literary-historical consensus that would divide poetry into two warring camps—post-Romantic and postmodern; symbolist and constructivist; traditionalist and avant-garde—camps that would pit form against form on grounds at once aesthetic and ethical. Rather than choosing sides in this conflict or re-sorting the poems upon its field of battle, I argue that a more compelling history might begin by offering a revisionary account of what poetry is or can be. Poetry is not always and everywhere understood as a literary project aiming to produce a special kind of verbal artifact distinguished by its particular formal qualities or by its distinctive uses of language.1 Nor is it always understood as an aesthetic project seeking to provoke or promote a special kind of experience—of transformative beauty, for example, or of imaginative freedom—in its readers. 2 Among the possible alternative ways of understanding poetry, I focus on the one that seems to me at once the most urgent and the one most fully obscured by our current taxonomies. For a certain type of modern poet, I will argue, “poetry” names an ontological project: a civilizational wish to reground the concept and the value of the person.

more from Oren Izenberg and others at nonsite here.