Preface: Learning to Read
Carson, L., White, H. C.
Because for us "learning to read" is synonymous with "learning to read poetry," we framed this issue of Genre with that one generic restriction. We invited our contributors to discuss the idea of "learning to read" with reference either to a critic who has or should have taught us about reading poems or to a poet or group of poets who involve us in their own reading. Given a common focus on poetry, these essays revisit the idea of lyric and its various attributes: individuality, originality, subjectivity, and feeling (especially in relation to tradition and convention). Our introduction focuses on the multiple lines of interconnection between the essays and the character of the story they tell together. Taken as a whole, the story about the fate of lyric poetry at the turn of the twentieth century is rich in the elements of romance: danger, conflict, rescue, hope, and love. In the broadest terms the imperiled object of this romance is the continued writing of poetry itself, a practice beset with dangers, according to these essays, from both within and without.
"The Deep Ludicrousness of Lyric": The Poet in T. J. Clark
Levy's chosen model for how to read poems is not a literary critic but an art historian, T. J. Clark. Why? To some extent, the author is following a more generalized "visual turn" in literary studies. But Clark is also a skilled and devoted close reader who, like many in literature, modeled his critical practice in this respect on that of the New Critics. What's more, Levy claims, Clark associates close reading with the reading of poetry in particular. Poetry features only rarely in the history of modernism as retold by art historians, but as Clark writes, "Lyric cannot be expunged from modernism, only repressed." The essay thus traces the repression and reemergence of lyric poetry in art-historical discourse from the work of Clark's precursor Clement Greenberg through Clark's later books, Farewell to an Idea and The Sight of Death. The discussion ends with an imagined dialogue between Clark and the poet and art critic Frank O'Hara—whom Clark cites prominently in Farewell—on the subject of what they call "vulgarity," which both writers see as a signal quality of late-modern lyric.
Dickinson and the Ballad
Emily Dickinson's metrical structures were as fully influenced by the ballad as by the hymn, and other elements of her style may also have been shaped by the huge popularity of ballads in the early nineteenth century in the United States. Understanding that the ballad is as important a model as hymns for Dickinson's short-lined verse undercuts interpretation of her chosen forms as either inherently rebellious against orthodoxies or devoutly meditative. Instead, Dickinson participated actively in secular as well as religious nineteenth-century popular verse culture. Attention to the ballad form and to ways ballads were read in the early nineteenth century illuminates both what is most extraordinary in Dickinson's verse and ways that it participates in the widespread development of popular forms. Her greatness emerges from her pleasure in, and experimentation with, her era's most popular and common forms as much as from the distinctiveness of her ear and imagination.
Marianne Moore and the Old Masters
Most of the scholarship on Marianne Moore and the visual arts has concentrated on her modernist period during the second and third decades of the twentieth century, when she drew inspiration from the formal innovations and metacognitive preoccupations of contemporary art. Modernism emphasized idiosyncratic struct