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Perloff’s unoriginality

By Harriet Staff

Mark Scroggins reviews Marjorie Perloff’s Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century for Bookforum. The review praises the book for framing the concept of originality in historical terms:

We haven’t always put a high premium on originality in writing. Alexander Pope defined “true wit” as “Nature to advantage dress’d, / What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d”; in other words, the best poet makes memorable lines out of what everybody already knows. It was the Romantics, in the nineteenth century, who made the expression of original personal experience the highest value. They gave us the idea that the poet should say something new, and that the poem should bear the authentic stamp of its maker: (copyright) Shelley, and no one else.

Scroggins then summarizes Perloff’s survey of the “unoriginal,” moving from Pound and Eliot’s incorporation of others’ writing to Language writers Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe to Kenneth Goldsmith’s transcriptions of weather reports. But payoff of this book about 20th century poetry is a call-to-arms for 21st century poetry:

The possibilities for poetry in this new century, just considering new technology alone, seem almost unlimited. While Perloff has given a tantalizing (if occasionally sketchy) account of how some poets have built on the modernist revolution in cannibalizing the already-written, one wonders whether the next generation of critics will even be able to begin to map the exploding fields of web-based, sound- and visual-incorporating poetry in anything as old-fashioned as a lecture series or a bound book.


Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.