Poetry and Rhetoric

Peter Nicholls

in The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195398779
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Poetry and Rhetoric

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)


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This article illustrates “rhetoric” as a multivalent term, encompassing deliberate deception, false fluency, redundancy, and inflated self-emphasis. It is a deeply unstable term, with one writer's meat invariably being another one's poison. Defined as cliché, commonplace, and unoriginal, though, rhetoric becomes a sort of inescapable ground against which literary innovation struggles constantly and “impossibly.” Ezra Pound had defined “rhetoric” as “the use of cliché unconsciously,” thereby perhaps leaving room for his own late invention of a consciously commonplace language of ethical injunction derived from Confucianism. Pound would not have seen the point of today's conceptual writing, though in one sense Goldsmith's work, with its blunt rejection of originality might be read as a programmatic and perhaps inevitable embrace of a rhetoric that was, for modernism, both a threat and a temptation.

Keywords: deception; false fluency; redundancy; self-emphasis; literary innovation; Ezra Pound; Goldsmith

Article.  10988 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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