Explores the ways American poetry engages with visual art, music, fiction, spirituality, and performance art
Many people think of poetry as a hermetic art, as though poets wrote only about themselves or as if the subject of poetry were finally only poetry—its forms and traditions. Indeed much of what constitutes poetry in the lyric tradition depends on a stringently controlled point of view and aims for a timeless, intransitive utterance. Stephen Fredman’s study proposes a different perspective.
American Poetry as Transactional Art explores a salient quality of much avant-garde American poetry that has so far lacked sustained treatment: namely, its role as a transactional art. Specifically Fredman describes this role as the ways it consistently engages in conversation, talk, correspondence, going beyond the scope of its own subjects and forms—its existential interactions with the outside world. Poetry operating in this vein draws together images, ideas, practices, rituals, and verbal techniques from around the globe, and across time—not to equate them, but to establish dialogue, to invite as many guests as possible to the World Party, which Robert Duncan has called the “symposium of the whole.”
Fredman invites new readers into contemporary poetry by providing lucid and nuanced analyses of specific poems and specific interchanges between poets and their surroundings. He explores such topics as poetry’s transactions with spiritual traditions and practices over the course of the twentieth century; the impact of World War II on the poetry of Charles Olson and George Oppen; exchanges between poetry and other art forms including sculpture, performance art, and ambient music; the battle between poetry and prose in the early work of Paul Auster and in Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. The epilogue looks briefly at another crucial transactional occasion: teaching American poetry in the classroom in a way that demonstrates that it is at the center of the arts and at the heart of American culture.
List of Figures
Poetry & Spirit: Against Orthodoxy
Chapter 1. Why Mysticism in Twentieth-Century American Poetry?
Chapter 2. Jerome Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred: Transactions between the Indigenous and the Avant-Garde
Chapter 3. Judaism as Loss and the Buddhist Element in Michael Heller’s Eschaton
Poetry & Its Time: Revising Literary History
Chapter 4. “And All Now Is War”: George Oppen, Charles Olson, and Literary Generations
Chapter 5. “The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs”: Charles Olson’s Contemporaries
Chapter 6. Laurie Anderson in the Reagan Era
Poetry & the Arts: Multimedia Exchange
Chapter 7. Robert Creeley, Marisol, and Presences as Transaction Network
Chapter 8. The Language Art of David Antin’s Talk Poems
Chapter 9. Audio File Audiophile: Listening for Ambient Poetry
Poetry & Prose: Intimate Opposition
Chapter 10. Translation and Not-Understanding
Chapter 11. Paul Auster’s Solitude in the Room of the Book
Chapter 12. Lyn Hejinian Becomes a Person on Paper
Epilogue: Teaching American Poetry
Stephen Fredman is emeritus professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. He is author of Contextual Practice: Assemblage and the Erotic in Postwar Poetry and Art; A Menorah for Athena: Charles Reznikoff and the Jewish Dilemmas of Objectivist Poetry; The Grounding of American Poetry: Charles Olson and the Emersonian Tradition; and Poet’s Prose: The Crisis in American Verse.
“This astonishingly wide-ranging, capacious, and brilliantly incisive set of essays on American poetry and poetics in the second half of the twentieth century ranges from revaluations of the mystical strain in Charles Olson and Robert Duncan to the talk poetry of David Antin, the performance art of Laurie Anderson, and the reconstruction of ‘autobiography’ in Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. The collection reminds us that Stephen Fredman, recognized as one of our best poetry critics, is also a truly revisionist literary historian.” —Marjorie Perloff, author of Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire and The Vienna Paradox: A Memoir
“Stephen Fredman writes from the inside about poetry's intimate relationship with the arts. Even if you think you know the poets well already, his generous, thoughtful judgements will make you want to read them all over again. He is also an engagingly perceptive guide to other significant poetic transactions: those between poetry and the sacred, and those between poems, students, and teachers.” —Peter Middleton, author of Physics Envy: American Poetry and Science in the Cold War and After
“Stephen Fredman’s new book—which brings together a number of essays written over a number of years, some already familiar, some new—feels very much like the culmination of a career spent discussing poetry. It is not, however, a backward glance at past critical highlights. Fresh and forward-looking, it is driven by an unfolding sense of how Fredman ‘came to see poetry as transactional act (1). Fredman uses this assemblage of essays on poets—from Jerome Rothenberg and David Antin to Laurie Anderson and Lyn Hejinian (amongst many others)—to examine their relationship to other artists—visual, sculptural and musical. This opening up, in turn, allows him to chart new, or newly configured, relationships between poetry and the other arts, as well as between poetry and the world it inhabits and to which—he compellingly argues—it vitally contributes.” —American Literary History
“In American Poetry as Transactional Art Stephen Fredman studies contemporary poetry as a dialogic art, composed in conversations and, often, contentions. He challenges the view of poem as an isolated monad, created in a single author’s imagination, and places it in its generative relationship to other arts, historical events, and internecine aesthetic debates. Although many of these essays have appeared elsewhere, they are now linked by Fredman’s biographical account of his transactional relationships with many of the poets under discussion. Informed by a subtle deployment of pragmatic theory in Dewey and James, this important book takes poetry off the page and into the world.” —Michael Davidson, author of Invalid Modernism: Disability and the Missing Body of the Aesthetic
“’These the companions’—Stephen Fredman follows Ezra Pound in thinking of his key writers as intimate presences, real and imagined, and of their art as a vital source of creative alliances, conversations and exchanges. This is poetry as an outward looking, ‘transactional art’ that invites in its turn a companionable kind of reading that is as intellectually exciting as it is deeply felt.” —Peter Nicholls, author of George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism
“For more than thirty years Stephen Fredman has brought new concepts, contexts, and combinations of writers to the study of modern and contemporary American poetry, and this new book is likely to be his most compelling—and provocative. Fredman’s argument is that poems are not just formal or cultural artifacts but experiences of engagement—intellectual, historical, political, mystical—that carry readers into new regions of experience and new occasions of self-understanding. Indeed, poetry should be read more as performance art with immediate and unpredictable consequences than as linguistic constructions to be analyzed from an aesthetic distance. The same may also be said of Fredman’s book, which will take its readers into any number of unexpected places.” —Gerald Bruns, author of Interruptions: The Fragmentary Aesthetic in Modern Literature
“Based on the precepts of what Fredman calls transactional art, this book is a guide to how to read certain postmodern and contemporary poets. Fredman defines transactional art as ‘interaction, interchange, conversation . . . activities that involve give and take . . . in which poetry is situated in actual occasions of relationship.’ The book’s unifying force is Fredman’s enthusiasm for such poets as Robert Duncan (his ‘poetic mentor’), David Anton, and others who emerged in the early 1970s. Recommended.” —CHOICE