Contemporary American Poetry and Its Public Worlds Essay

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But who has the will to concern himself with such dangerous maybes? For that, one really has to to wait for the advent of a new species of philosophers, such as somehow another and converse taste and propensity from those we have known so far--philosophers of the dangerous "maybe" in every sense.

(Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec 2.)

This will not be one more lament for the sad state of contemporary American poetry. Yet to define some of the basic strengths of new work I have to begin with what seems like a lament. For perhaps the most important invigorating element for contemporaries is a widespread dissatisfaction with what is called romantic lyricism, poetry based on the dramatization of intense subjective states
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For poetry to achieve cultural currency, in both senses of that term, it may have to find ways of reconciling the energies of romantic lyricism to overtly rhetorical ambitions and strategies.

It will take me a long time to get to those ambitions because I first have to clarify plausible ways of using the concept of poetry's relations to a public world, and then I have to use that discussion in order to dramatize the problems of mediated culture that demand those new strategies. Criticism now seems divided between two basic understandings of how poets can evade romantic lyricism and directly address public worlds. The first is fundamentally agenda-based. Here poetry's relation to the public world consists in its efforts to offer timely statement or testimony responding to pressing social issues, usually as an effort to represent the interests of a specific community. The second option forgoes this emphasis on specific thematic concerns in order to stress instead the overall stances that poets develop. From this perspective it matters less what you say than how you manage to cultivate an ethos that is perceived as representing the

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