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Introduction: “One Kind of Everything”

Introduction: “One Kind of Everything”

Chapter:
(p.1) Introduction: “One Kind of Everything”
Source:
One Kind of Everything
Author(s):
Dan Chiasson
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226103846.003.0001

This is a book about the relationship between fact and figure in American poetry. Poetic figuration (and the imaginative activity it emblematizes) seems to be either factual or explicitly afactual, the mark of renunciation and transcendence in the face of mere fact. The particular class of “autobiographical” facts discussed in this book seem especially mundane, which is to say, especially subject to triumphant transcendence (and erasure) by the imagination. This bias against autobiography seems particularly American or, to be more precise, particularly Americanist. The primary sponsors of this bias would seem to be Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. The breadth of the Whitmanian conception of self, its essentially compound or “cellular” nature, poses a challenge for later writers who would speak more narrowly of their own experiences. In Emerson we see the earliest suggestion that the failure of the imagination and autobiography are causally connected. The poets it features, such as Louise Glück, Frank Bidart, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Frank O'Hara, become themselves by becoming Whitman, but become Whitman, equally, by becoming themselves.

Keywords:   American poetry, autobiography, figuration, imagination, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, self, Louise Glück, Elizabeth Bishop

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