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The Resistance to Poetry


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James Longenbach is the Joseph Henry Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester and the author of four distinguished critical studies of modern literature, most recently Modern Poetry after Modernism. His two books of poems, Threshold and Fleet River, are published by the University of Chicago Press.


It is axiomatic that poetry resists our attempts to make sense of it. Here, Longenbach argues that the language of poetry resists itself even more than its readers and by doing so conquers our resistance to its obscurity. He argues further that the accessibility of much contemporary poetry has replaced "inwardness"-the thing that makes it poetry. Both a poet himself (e.g., Fleet River) and the author of major studies on poetry (e.g., Modern Poetry After Modernism), Longenbach offers an argument that runs counter to Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks's Understanding Poetry (1950). We read poetry not to understand, he counters, but "to experience the sensation, the sound, of words leaping just beyond our capacity to know them certainly." Discovering in a poem something strange in what we thought familiar, we draw fresh wonder at the alien beauty of our own becoming in the world. Longenbach's spare method is that of the poet, his careful exposition like that of a poem. Both academic and public libraries should make room for this beautiful little book.-Vince Brewton, Univ. of North Alabama Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"An intelligent, elegant and valuable defense of poetry." - John Palattella, Nation "James Longenbach's exhilarating and subtle book makes the eloquent case for the necessary unpopularity of poetry." - Adam Philips, Guardian (UK) "Longenbach's spare method is that of a poet, his careful exposition like that of a poem.... A beautiful little book." - Library Journal "Throughout nine small and expertly constellated essays, Longenbach demonstrates that poems are a form of thinking: a resistance to the clear-cut, uncomplicated thought that tries to pin them down as statements.... A compact and exponentially provocative book." - Brian Phillips, Poetry"

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