I’m Working on a Review of Mutlu Konuk Blasing’s Lyric Poetry

I have been struggling with a review of Mutlu Konuk Blasing's study, Lyric Poetry, for The Wallace Stevens Journal. I have promised the editor I would give him the review Monday & I've set aside tomorrow morning to beat my notes into a 1500 word book review. I confess that I have been having a hard time separating my reaction to the book's style from its ideas. The style seems wildly over-elaborate, while the arguments seem plausible & even useful. The other thing that I've been having trouble with is the book's strategy. Three chapters of theory, followed by individual chapters on High Modernist icons Eliot, Pound & Stevens -- that august law firm! -- followed by a chapter on Anne Sexton that feels tacked on. I keep getting the feeling that there is a partially hidden project here to make the High Modernist project respectable again (with the help of Sigmund Freud). And that suspicion engenders a deep ambivalence in me because I love Eliot, am fascinated by Pound & respect Stevens! I want to do Blasing's arguments justice; I think her explication of the "lyric I" provides a more useful framework than the disreputable remains of the New Criticism's "unified expression of a single speaker." Maybe I just don't read enough criticism anymore to keep myself inoculated from a particular kind of clotted diction that seeks to over-sell solid insights as revolutionary realignments of literary history.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

5 thoughts on “I’m Working on a Review of Mutlu Konuk Blasing’s Lyric Poetry

  1. What is the function of theory in literature? To me, good critics — from any school or philosophical orientation — shed light on corners of literature I would otherwise miss. They need not be simplistic. Reading is difficult and I need all the help I can get. If a theorist cannot supply it, then to heck with him or her. A page of Derrida, Hiller, Eco, Lentricchia, Blanchot, Eliot, Hartman, etc. can cause a small explosion in my brain and leave me astonishingly alert. Bad, jargon-filled theory just puts me to sleep.

  2. Chris, it’s interesting that you should put it this way — I was just now drafting a paragraph that asked, somewhat more narrowly than your questions — Should it be among the functions of criticism to ‘improve the art’ or alter the practice of poets, or at least their understanding of what it is they do? That question is becoming part of my review.

  3. That causal relation between the critic and the practice of art is an interesting one. Some, like Eliot of course, traverse whatever boundary there is distinguishing the enterprises. But the real audience for criticism is not the practitioners, but the readers. Readers might affect the production of literature and the relation between critics and art is indirect in this way. Good critics are much better readers than they are writers (with exceptions). Ever read a novel by Edmund Wilson, Terry Eagleton, or Frank Lentricchia? Their real gifts lie elsewhere.

  4. And poets write a very different sort of criticism from critics. Still, as a poet who has written a few bits of criticism, I have a lot of sympathy for the impulse to prove you can do the other thing, like Lentricchia’s novels, which I hear are dreadful, though I haven’t read one. The two things seem more closely related than they are.

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