Skeptical of the arguments put forth in Robert Duncan's long-awaited, post-humously published The H. D. Book, this review essay questions the elevation of Pre-Raphaelite, Aestheticist, and Decadent poetry that forms the basis of Duncan's revisionist canon—a revision in which Wallace Stevens and T. S. Eliot are dismissed as “merely rational,” while H. D. and Duncan himself are elevated to the uppermost ranks, just beneath Ezra Pound. The essay focuses on the peculiarity of “Wardour Street” diction returning to poetry in the postmodern era (especially in the verse of Gjertrud Schnackenberg) and connects this development to the nostalgia evidenced in Duncan's occultism. Placing the New Critics with the poets Karl Shapiro and Richard Wilbur, Duncan dismisses them all as “academics” and “descendants of those ministers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, holding out against the magic of poetry as once they held out against the magic-religion of witch cults.” Emphasizing that it is the witch cults with which Duncan evidently sides, the essay concludes that Duncan's reranking of poets is no more reliable than his attitude toward rationality.
Belle Randall; THE “HIGH-BROW EFFECT”: Postmodern Meets Premodern Poetry. Common Knowledge 1 January 2013; 19 (1): 154–163. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-1815998
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