The Contemporary Anti‐Elegy

R. Clifton Spargo

in The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199228133
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 The Contemporary Anti‐Elegy

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
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This article describes the measure of the elegy's self-subversions through history, but finds that in its contemporary form it has reached an apex of resistance that plays out in the realm of ethics. Focusing on Elizabeth Bishop, Ann Sexton, and Jorie Graham, the article reveals that contemporary elegy is intensely self-conscious; this self-consciousness plays out not only in the terms of the self-reflexive engagement, but in its acuteness with respect to its own temporality, and to the ethical considerations that are thereby inextricably tied to it. Bishop's poetry explores the provisional negotiations of memory in an effort to establish a continuous self that, despite the best efforts, is far less stable than its everyday capability might lead to suppose. Graham's poetry has been celebrated for its modernist or postmodernist difficulties. The surest sign of anti-elegy resides in its refusal to find restitution in the function of commemoration in culture.

Keywords: contemporary anti-elegy; Elizabeth Bishop; Ann Sexton; Jorie Graham; self-conscious

Article.  8994 words. 

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

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