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Orphic Bend, Orphic Bend, 081736014X, 0-8173-6014-X, 978-0-8173-6014-6, 9780817360146, , Modern and Contemporary Poetics, Orphic Bend, 0817393706, 0-8173-9370-6, 978-0-8173-9370-0, 9780817393700, , Modern and Contemporary Poetic

Orphic Bend
Music and Innovative Poetics
Robert L. Zamsky

Quality Paper
2021. 224 pp.
Price:  $39.95 s
E Book
2021. 232 pp.
Price:  $39.95 d

Restages fundamental debates about the relationship between poetry and music

Orphic Bend: Music and Innovative Poetics explores the impact of music on recent pioneering literary practices in the United States. Adopting the myth of Orpheus as its framework, Robert L. Zamsky argues that works by Charles Bernstein, Robert Creeley, John Taggart, Tracie Morris, and Nathaniel Mackey restage ancient debates over the relationship between poetry and music even as they develop work that often sharply diverges from traditional literary forms. Opening each chapter with a consideration of the orphic roots of lyric, Zamsky integrates contemporary debates over the prospects and limitations of humanism, the meaningfulness of gesture and performance, and the nature of knowledge with the poetics of the writers under consideration, grounding his analysis in close readings of their work.
The myth of Orpheus is used as a lens throughout the book, its different facets illuminating sometimes dramatically different aspects of the shared framework of poetry and music. In the case of Bernstein, for instance, Zamsky highlights Ezra Pound’s meditations on the relationship between poetry and music (the ground upon which Pound seeks to recapture the lost possibilities of the Renaissance) and Bernstein’s incisive critique of Pound. For her part, Morris emphasizes the performative power of spoken language, foregrounding the fact that all spoken language bears cultural, communal, and personal marks of the speaker, improving an ensemble self even within the most elemental features of language. Meanwhile, in Mackey’s work, the orphic voice of the poet powerfully reaches toward an order of knowledge in which poetry and music are nearly indecipherable from one another. In this sense, music and the musicality of poetic language are the gateways for Mackey’s Gnosticism, the mechanisms of initiation into a realm, not of secrets to be learned, but of visionary knowing that continuously unfolds.
The text explores a range of musical influences on the writers under consideration, from opera to different iterations of jazz, and underscores the variety of ways in which music informs their work. Many of these writers effectively present a theory of music in their invocations of it as an inspiration for, or as an analog to, poetic practice. Zamsky’s focus on poetry and music echoes important interdisciplinary studies on literary modernism, a period for which the importance of music to literary practice is well established and extends that discussion to the contemporary context. In doing so, Orphic Bend provides an important opportunity to consider both the specific legacy of modernism, and to situate contemporary writers in broader historical contexts.
Robert L. Zamsky is professor of English at New College of Florida. His scholarship has appeared in Modernism/modernity, Callaloo, Arizona Quarterly, and Texas Studies in Language and Literature.
“Orphic Bend presents a captivating reading of the relationship between poetry and music in 20th-century America. Zamsky uses the Orpheus myth as the focal point of this study. The myth’s complexities and various iterations allow him to account for the diverse polyvocality of the poets he considers. Chapters focus on the works of Ezra Pound and Charles Bernstein on opera and on Robert Creeley, John Taggart, Tracie Morris, and Nathaniel Mackey (from whom the title comes). Except for Pound, the poets under consideration worked in the last half of the 20th century, and Zamsky makes extensive use of late-20th-century critical theory, especially poststructuralism. In spite of its complexities, this study is a delightful read, and it is an important contribution to poetry and cultural studies. Highly recommended.”

“This will be a signal book in its exploration of the persistence of ‘song’ and ‘music’ as provocations to poetry, particularly the venturesome and innovative work of the poets here scrutinized which largely avoid the more obvious poetic petitions to musicality by way of formal versification. The legacy unpacked here is of compelling interest, and Zamsky has proven to be a most discerning, articulate, and dedicated chronicler.”
— Jed Rasula, author of Destruction Was My Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century
"Zamsky’s book does an excellent job of teasing out the Orphic imperatives that run so strongly through what we still call “the New American” poetries of the twentieth century’s second half. Wedded to that inextricably is Zamsky’s deep thinking about the roles of music, ranging from what we in the classical world still call “the New Music” through Bop and on to what we once called ‘The New Thing” in jazz."
—Aldon Lynn Nielsen, author of The Inside Songs of Amiri Baraka
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