The Spokenness of Poetry

James Longenbach

in The Resistance to Poetry

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2004 | ISBN: 9780226492490
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226492513 | DOI:
The Spokenness of Poetry

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A number of modern poets have made highly influential remarks about the dramatic nature of lyric utterance. “Everything written is as good as it is dramatic,” said Robert Frost. “In the search for sincere self-expression,” said Ezra Pound, “one gropes, one finds some seeming verity,” casting off “complete masks of the self in each poem.” In the middle of the twentieth century, the New Critical synthesis of these remarks transformed a means into a method, and by the time Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren published Understanding Poetry, it could be taken for granted that all poetry involves a dramatic organization. The method leads us to prefer modern poems that announce themselves immediately as voice driven and encourages us to look back to older poems that prefigure the preference. The New Critical preference for the dramatic poem helped to perpetuate the illusion that the nineteenth century had been a bad time for poetry—the gradual attenuation of Wordsworth's bold decision to place the poet at the center of the poem. But in fact the modern notion of the persona is a refinement of a crucial turn in Victorian poetics.

Keywords: poems; poetry; voice; Robert Frost; Ezra Pound; Victorian poetics; New Critical

Chapter.  3966 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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