Poetry and Its OthersNews, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres

Poetry and Its OthersNews, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres

Jahan Ramazani

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226083735

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

What is poetry? Often it is understood as a largely self-enclosed verbal system— “suspended from any mutual interaction with alien discourse,” in the words of Mikhail Bakhtin. But this book reveals modern and contemporary poetry’s dialogue with other genres and discourses, especially the novel, theory, the law, news, prayer, and song. Poetry generates rich new possibilities, it argues, by absorbing and contending with its near verbal relatives. Exploring a heterogeneous array of English-language poets— from Gerard Manley Hopkins, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams to Frank O’Hara, Paul Muldoon, Rae Armantrout, Lorna Goodison, M. NourbeSe Philip, and many others— this book shows that poetry both blends with other genres and distinguishes itself from them: the realism of the novel and the news’s empiricism, the abstractions of theory and the law’s social ordering, the ritualism of prayer and the voice-engrained melodies of song. In close readings of famous and little-known poems, the book demonstrates an interpretive practice that combines dialogic analysis, in this case of poetry’s absorption of closely related discursive forms, with genre-specific analysis of poetry’s persisting awareness of its difference. Even as poetry stretches to incorporate various genres, it puts on display the compression, dense figuration, self-reflexivity, and sonic and visual form by which it differentiates itself from the others it metabolizes. In this book, the first to trace poetry’s interactions with its discursive cousins, we understand what poetry is by closely examining its interplay with what it is not.