Peter O’Leary’s Thick and Dazzling Darkness and Christopher Grobe’s The Art of Confession both deal to some extent with postwar poetry. But the two books have very little overlap, a sign both of the variety of American culture and the productive diversity of contemporary critical approaches. O’Leary’s study is broadly traditional in its analysis of recognizably “literary” poetic texts, while Grobe’s performance studies approach encompasses an impressive array of both high and low cultural forms. Both books, however, have much to teach us about turn-of-the-century American self-formation.

If Thick and Dazzling Darkness bears a certain family resemblance to Norman Finkelstein’s On Mount Vision: Forms of the Sacred in Contemporary American Poetry (2010) (both authors, for instance, write about Robert Duncan and Nathaniel Mackey), O’Leary wants to make clear that he’s not interested in anything as vague as the “sacred” or the even...

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