Thursday, July 23, 2009

Robert Archambeau: We're still shopping at the Romanticism Store

Welcome to the Romanticism Store!

I’ve made it something of a habit not to deal much with poetry written before 1911 or so (really, more like 1922 probably). And sometimes I like to irritate my friends by saying things like, “Poetry didn’t start until ‘Prufrock.’ ” They really like that one. It betrays all my biases and my fundamental lack of depth.

And then someone comes along and says something that as soon as I hear it I feel that little snap of inevitability, that little click of the future and the past (the future in the past). There have been many over the years. Sometimes it’s a book of poetry. Michael Palmer’s Notes for Echo Lake. Jorie Graham’s Region of Unlikeness. Sometimes it’s an essay. Ron Silliman’s “The New Sentence.” Stephen Burt’s “The Elliptical Poets.” Don Gifford’s The Farther Shore: a Natural History of Perception (which prefigures much of Archambeau's main point [up to 1984, that is]). And each time the past comes back, and it’s us.

Today’s little snap of inevitability comes from Robert Archambeau. Granted, he’s not saying something that hasn’t been said before (which is always the criticism whenever someone says anything it seems – so the disclaimer), but when I’ve heard it or thought it in the past, it was always general, like “Ashbery is really a Romantic poet with a magician’s hat.” That sort of thing. (I’ve also heard similar things about Stevens, but that’s beside the point at hand.) He puts a little more flesh on that skeleton:

“In many ways, I think some of the most thoughtful poets of the last few decades have been practicing a kind of modified or inverted version of Romanticism. Think about elliptical poetry: so much of it is all about the lack of formal coherence that you think it'd be the farthest thing from Coleridge’s organic form or its New Critical offshoot, the well-wrought urn. But the deliberate incoherence of elliptical poetry is really out to accomplish the same sorts of things Coleridge outlined. First of all, elliptical techniques are all about differentiating poetry from prose, about upholding what Barthes called “the discontinuity of language.” Poetry is different, we see, because it doesn’t try for prose coherence. And in the deep ambiguities and incoherencies of elliptical verse, we’re looking at effects similar to those Coleridge saw as belonging to the symbol: we avoid paraphrasable meaning, we escape the utilitarian logic of means-and-ends. Some see this as purely a matter of beauty, some see it as a critique of a society that relies on a logic of language to support its logic of power. Again, all of this is very much in line with the general trend of thinking that runs from Coleridge through Mallarmé, and even through the New Critics.”

Here’s a link, in case you haven’t already seen it:

To add to his point. Don Gifford, as I mentioned above, back in 1984, wrote The Farther Shore (published in 1990). In it, he traces historical perception from the far shore of Gilbert White’s end of the eighteenth century through the midstream of Thoreau’s time (where Walden Pond was more Walled-in Pond) to the near shore of how we perceive now. From the careful edges of 1789 to the edgeless era of the just then (1984 remember) burgeoning Internet. It’s a wonderfully written and closely observed book. I recommend it highly, even as it only takes us so far. The story now, from Wordsworth to (insert name) is fuller. Anyway, one point – if I’m remembering correctly – places Romanticism as the first chapter in the story of who we are now. Anyway, perhaps it's a rhyme with the Archambeau . . .


At 7/23/2009 7:15 AM, Blogger knott said...

i don't disagree with him per se—

but back in 1985 Poetry Magazine had a British issue,

with an essay by John Bayley,

wherein he said the difference between Brit and US poets is

that the Britpos are post-Romantic

and the USpos aren't—


At 7/23/2009 7:24 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Funny coincidence: A friend of mine just sent me an email saying the British, by-and-large, write as if Modernism never happened.

Maybe that's two sides of the same flat surface?

At 7/23/2009 8:07 AM, Blogger Matthew W. Schmeer said...

Oh, come on. Everybody knows that poetry didn't start until Life Studies.

At 7/23/2009 8:49 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The first single-author book of poetry I bought was Lowell's Selected Poems, back in 1986 or so. So, in some way, for me at least, poetry did kind of start with Life Studies. Boy I found out how much I hated his stuff before that!

And then I quickly went, as they say, left of the dial . . .

At 7/23/2009 11:28 AM, Blogger Don Share said...

Good timing all around - folks can check out the roots of 20th century experimental modernism in Romanticism via the 3rd volume of Rothenberg and Robinson's Poems for the Millennium, subtitled "The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry." Great stuff in there...

At 7/23/2009 11:35 AM, Blogger Archambeau said...

The Rothenberg/Joris anthology has been glaring angrily down at me from the top of a bookshelf for months! I should haul it down, but until my broken leg heals I'm still in a wheelchair, so my options include: A) waiting for my wife to come home, B) shaking the shelf until, in the rain of books, the anthology comes tumbling down and C) doing nothing. What do you think? Patience, risk or injury, or ongoing ignorance? Each path has its appeal.

Better get that Gifford book, too...

At 7/23/2009 11:46 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

If I had a dollar for every book that I completely missed, then I'd have enough money to buy all the books I've missed. Which, though mathematically impossible, sure feels true.

In other words: thanks for the head's up.

At 7/23/2009 11:50 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I was looking around for your email address to send you a note about the Gifford book, but now it appears I don't need to.

It might be hard to get now. It's pretty old. But I found it a real nice read back then.

At 7/23/2009 12:33 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Mr. Archambeau:

As you noted on your blog, you do not have a reply function, so, since I've found you here, let me take advantage of John's graciousness to tell you that your post was the best thing I've read in a long time. Thank you.

At 7/23/2009 12:45 PM, Blogger Archambeau said...

Hot damn. I've got to turn that comments thing on!

At 7/23/2009 12:49 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Please don't. I like feeling the love filter through my comments stream . . .

Your post was a nice, useable way to think of things. You should write it up as a full on essay.

At 7/23/2009 5:57 PM, Blogger Archambeau said...

A full-on essay? Sure -- but who publishes this sort of thing? Any ideas?


At 7/23/2009 6:28 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Dear Mr. Archambeau:

I’m afraid you have brought a plague down upon the House of Gallaher. Your use of the word ‘telos’ reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago. I wanted to post it on your site but, of course, you don’t have a reply feature (and a wise man you are).

Unfortunately, Mr, Gallaher, being of Irish descent, is genetically predisposed to unavoidable kindness, so I will have to make use of his generosity again in order to post it here:


It’s not about the structure of the sentence
or the constancy of style,
the endless repetition
in forms so long ago expressed.
It’s about the message that’s conveyed,
the vision in the image,
the telos in the words,
not the way it’s dressed.

The sea takes many forms and moods,
rough and wild or placid,
but it is that which swims beneath it
that gives it worth.

Copyright 2009 – Ponds and Lawns, Gary B. Fitzgerald

At 7/23/2009 7:15 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I hear there's a new series starting up at some press in Ohio?

At 7/23/2009 8:01 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Gary B.:

Unfortunately I'm adopted. My birth name was Martin Enquist. I think my people are warlike and cold-hearted.

The sea takes many forms, indeed!

At 7/23/2009 8:26 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Enquist is Swedish. So...a fucking Viking, you are.

Probably half the people in Ireland are of Viking descent.

All sea people. All 'warrior poets'.

At 7/23/2009 9:59 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That explains my fondness for funny hats then.

At 7/24/2009 7:46 AM, Blogger Archambeau said...

Since you're a crypto-Swede, maybe you'll be interested in this:

Okay. I'm seriously done blowing my own horn on your comments thread.


At 7/25/2009 6:44 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

My brother, my uncle!

From the essay-review:

"In reading Gustafsson and Nyberg side by side, though, I am struck by the similarity between the generational change in Swedish poetry and that in American poetry. In both literatures, a mid-century generation intent, in various ways, on rescuing subjective experience from a rationalized, bureaucratized world has passed the torch to a generation whose personal concerns are tempered by a skepticism about language that makes their poems complex, fraught and, in the hands of a poet as nimble as Nyberg, strangely brilliant."

At 7/26/2009 9:28 PM, Blogger Doug said...

'half the people in Ireland are of Viking descent'

that is FALSE

once can scroll down to the discussion section to save time

At 7/27/2009 8:14 AM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Thank you, Doug, for that link to an interesting article. Please excuse my hyperbole. I was just trying to make John feel better about not being Irish. I feel terrible for everone who isn't Irish. :-)

Here's a poem:


I’ve always been proud of my Irish
for deep within me is the love
of all things loved by the Irish:
fine horses and music and poetry,
pretty girls and a windy sea.
But I’m no more Irish than you are,
just a mix of many things…
Scottish and Dutch and German,
some Welsh and a little Cherokee.

My Irish is only an illusion, just a name
(though perhaps a touch in the soul).
I’m just an American mongrel
like the rest of us, like that other illusion,
that game we play every day
of who and what we are or want to seem to be
and all but moral mongrels.

Copyright 2009 - Tall Grass & High Waves, Gary B. Fitzgerald

At 7/27/2009 8:28 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Well, if nobody noticed that's good, but I dropped a 'y' back there. Sorry. (I'm definitely OCD about spelling.)

Why, oh why, is it impossible for us to post on the freaking internet without typos? It drives me nuts!

At 7/28/2009 1:52 PM, Blogger Johannes said...


While I appreciate you reviewing books in translation, I think you make a big mistake in turning it into a history of Swedish poetry, when your narrative really tells a development of US poetry, not Swedish poetry. Your account just simply does not take into account any number of changes etc. I'll write something about this as soon as I get some time. This is like writing the history of US poetry based on Christian Hawkey's book and Merwin's latest. What would be left out? A lot. See what I mean?



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