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The Resistance to Poetry

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Poems inspire our trust, argues James Longenbach in this bracing work, because they don't necessarily ask to be trusted. Theirs is the language of self-questioning—metaphors that turn against themselves, syntax that moves one way because it threatens to move another. Poems resist themselves more strenuously than they are resisted by the cultures receiving them. Poems inspire our trust, argues James Longenbach in this bracing work, because they don't necessarily ask to be trusted. Theirs is the language of self-questioning—metaphors that turn against themselves, syntax that moves one way because it threatens to move another. Poems resist themselves more strenuously than they are resisted by the cultures receiving them. But the resistance to poetry is quite specifically the wonder of poetry. Considering a wide array of poets, from Virgil and Milton to Dickinson and Glück, Longenbach suggests that poems convey knowledge only inasmuch as they refuse to be vehicles for the efficient transmission of knowledge. In fact, this self-resistance is the source of the reader's pleasure: we read poetry not to escape difficulty but to embrace it. An astute writer and critic of poems, Longenbach makes his case through a sustained engagement with the language of poetry. Each chapter brings a fresh perspective to a crucial aspect of poetry (line, syntax, figurative language, voice, disjunction) and shows that the power of poetry depends less on meaning than on the way in which it means—on the temporal process we negotiate in the act of reading or writing a poem. Readers and writers who embrace that process, Longenbach asserts, inevitably recoil from the exaggeration of the cultural power of poetry in full awareness that to inflate a poem's claim on our attention is to weaken it. A graceful and skilled study, The Resistance to Poetry honors poetry by allowing it to be what it is. This book arrives at a critical moment—at a time when many people are trying to mold and market poetry into something it is not.


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Poems inspire our trust, argues James Longenbach in this bracing work, because they don't necessarily ask to be trusted. Theirs is the language of self-questioning—metaphors that turn against themselves, syntax that moves one way because it threatens to move another. Poems resist themselves more strenuously than they are resisted by the cultures receiving them. Poems inspire our trust, argues James Longenbach in this bracing work, because they don't necessarily ask to be trusted. Theirs is the language of self-questioning—metaphors that turn against themselves, syntax that moves one way because it threatens to move another. Poems resist themselves more strenuously than they are resisted by the cultures receiving them. But the resistance to poetry is quite specifically the wonder of poetry. Considering a wide array of poets, from Virgil and Milton to Dickinson and Glück, Longenbach suggests that poems convey knowledge only inasmuch as they refuse to be vehicles for the efficient transmission of knowledge. In fact, this self-resistance is the source of the reader's pleasure: we read poetry not to escape difficulty but to embrace it. An astute writer and critic of poems, Longenbach makes his case through a sustained engagement with the language of poetry. Each chapter brings a fresh perspective to a crucial aspect of poetry (line, syntax, figurative language, voice, disjunction) and shows that the power of poetry depends less on meaning than on the way in which it means—on the temporal process we negotiate in the act of reading or writing a poem. Readers and writers who embrace that process, Longenbach asserts, inevitably recoil from the exaggeration of the cultural power of poetry in full awareness that to inflate a poem's claim on our attention is to weaken it. A graceful and skilled study, The Resistance to Poetry honors poetry by allowing it to be what it is. This book arrives at a critical moment—at a time when many people are trying to mold and market poetry into something it is not.

30 review for The Resistance to Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    For some reason, GR would not accepts my updates on this book. And naturally, when thinking about a book that points to so many meanings this seemed meaningful, as though the book were rejecting my attempts to read it, always going back to zero. The Resistance to Poetry is a dense book that I sometimes felt did reject my efforts to understand it. But no matter, what little I did understand was thrilling. And what I didn't understand tantalized me, woke in me a hunger to know more. And th For some reason, GR would not accepts my updates on this book. And naturally, when thinking about a book that points to so many meanings this seemed meaningful, as though the book were rejecting my attempts to read it, always going back to zero. The Resistance to Poetry is a dense book that I sometimes felt did reject my efforts to understand it. But no matter, what little I did understand was thrilling. And what I didn't understand tantalized me, woke in me a hunger to know more. And the poetry used is beautiful, exciting-Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, so many other wonderful poets from the old classics-Shakespeare, of course, and Tennyson and Keats to Michael Palmer and the poets listed above. The book gave me a chance to read (or reread) some of their words and explore their meaning-or, as Longenbach might say, their resistance to be reduced into simple terms. If you love language, this is a book for you.

  2. 4 out of 5

    sarah louise

    I think this book has limitations—but since when was perfection the actual soul of perfection? If I find I cannot un-stymie myself from the cultural narrowness, and possible ethnocentricity, of the introduction and the book's basic premise of obscurity as a poetic value, I also find its insistence that poetry is as much about hiding, and obscurity, as being discovered, both romantic and full of faith. While I think it could be skillfully extended to poetry in other sociohistorical/cultural conte I think this book has limitations—but since when was perfection the actual soul of perfection? If I find I cannot un-stymie myself from the cultural narrowness, and possible ethnocentricity, of the introduction and the book's basic premise of obscurity as a poetic value, I also find its insistence that poetry is as much about hiding, and obscurity, as being discovered, both romantic and full of faith. While I think it could be skillfully extended to poetry in other sociohistorical/cultural contexts, I'd prefer if Longenbach qualified his beautiful, grand claims as being about American (and largely EuroAmerican) poetry. Nevertheless, he does an inspiring job of bringing together multiple late-20th century poets like Jorie Graham and Louise Glück, who otherwise don't get equal attention with Pound and Eliot, to make insightful, and beautifully-phrased, observations about this particular genealogy of poetry.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    On reflection, I didn't like this as much as I thought I would. Longenbach is a powerfully clear & efficient writer. Anyone who manages to say anything compelling about poetry in under a dozen pages in a coherent, quasi-accessible essay deserves recognition. Longenbach is also gifted in bringing together very dissimilar poems in service of making his points, keeping his arguments from seeming too overtly partisan and that sort of thing. & while the individual essays have no glaring weakn On reflection, I didn't like this as much as I thought I would. Longenbach is a powerfully clear & efficient writer. Anyone who manages to say anything compelling about poetry in under a dozen pages in a coherent, quasi-accessible essay deserves recognition. Longenbach is also gifted in bringing together very dissimilar poems in service of making his points, keeping his arguments from seeming too overtly partisan and that sort of thing. & while the individual essays have no glaring weaknesses, they all possess a similar rhetorical rhythm and work towards very similar points. & of course such a prolific critics' thinking is going to be rather unified, but around essay six or seven a certain fatiguing inevitability of expectation sets in. At a certain point you start longing for periods of casual warmth found in essayists like Jarrell. (Yep, he's good for something). Anyway, my favorite essay = the discussion of "and" and "or" in poetry.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David Ruskin

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  6. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Chambers

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maurice Mierau

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steven Mccall

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  10. 5 out of 5

    X.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Starmy

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  13. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cprusik

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  16. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nate

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sara Judy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nikhil

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dania

  21. 4 out of 5

    R

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Flynn

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pepito

  24. 4 out of 5

    Connie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Thom

  26. 5 out of 5

    Volker Rivinius

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Tait

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sheikh Tajamul

  30. 5 out of 5

    Liam Guilar

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