From Petit to Langpo:
A History of Solipsism and Experience In Mainstream
American Poetics Since the Rise of Creative Writing

by Gabriel Gudding

1. Overview: The Necessary Angel and Solipsistic Poetry

       R ichard Rorty has recently called for a return to a "poeticized culture" whose hero would be nothing short of Harold Bloom's "strong poet." In making this proposal for a new kind of cultural hero, Rorty is doing something more than reworking the old Emersonian idea of poet as liberator, or Whitman's idea of the poet as equalizer. Indeed, Rorty is neither hinting at a risorgimento of Wallace Stevens' idea of the poet as necessary angel, in whose sight we "see the earth again," nor toward a variation of what the Nuyorican poet Sapphire sees as the poet's duty to "cry out the new" for the sake of the community. 1   Rorty's call is an echoing of Heidegger's proposition that the poet's job is to trace the footsteps of the gods as they retreat from the long night encroaching upon the world. 2   Interestingly enough, Rorty's poet wouldn't even write poetry:

"I assume that Bloom would be willing to extend the reference of 'poet' beyond those who write verse, and to use it in the large, generic sense in which I am using it -- so that Proust and Nabokov, Newton and Darwin, Hegel and Heidegger, also fall under the term." 3  
A curious situation. We live in an age, many tell us, in which the poet is so solipsistic she cannot see the world around her clearly enough to write in the manner of an upright human being: and here's Rorty insisting we need poets, but not necessarily ones who write poetry. Has the poet herself in this new age come to preeminence at the expense of her poetry?

       Could we, if we were to press the point, see a new, splintered understanding of the cultural place of the poet in America today?: on the one hand, the poet herself heralded as cultural palliative and social heal-all, while on the other her poetry disregarded as solipsistic. In some cases, even poets are insisting much poetry nowadays is overly self-involved. Of late the mainstream Adrienne Rich, Fred Chappell, Derek Walcott, and of course Hall and Berry, have denounced this current solipsism. And they have been well-matched in their effort by an entire generation of critics in the academy. Certainly when William Stafford writes that the poet is not to write for laurels nor for others but for himself alone, he is exemplifying, at least ostensibly, the solipsism so often referred to. 4   Rich has recently written that in future "people will say, we lost track/ of the meaning of we, of you/ we found ourselves/ reduced to I/ and the whole thing became/ silly, ironic, terrible:/ we were trying to live a personal life/ and, yes, that was the only life/ we could bear witness to/...." 5   The poet and critic Fred Chappell, in a 1992 review, has said of the "first-person pronoun,"

"Contemporary American poetry clings to it like lichen to a sandstone boulder. Personal anecdote...and knotty personal revery: these make up the ordinary shelf stock of the contemporary lyric. The I is part of our poetic weather...." 6  
But unlike Berry, Chappell does not then go on to disparage today's poets; he is instead simply making a biting comment about the climate in which they and we are forced to write and read. Berry, on the other hand, opens his collection of essays Standing by Words of 1974 lamenting the character of contemporary poets. Berry does not, unlike Chappell and Rich, see the poet's new position in a cultural light, but a moral one; he insists our poets some time ago "turned inward" and now need somehow to correct their attitude; he demands that poets at last straighten up and fly right, that the poet at last resume her "place of responsibility." 7   What is curious -- and even ironic -- about Berry's attack is that it is based upon the same tenets held by Bloom and Rorty and Heidegger when they call for the re-apotheosis of the poet: like these social theorists, Berry insists it is the experience the poet represents, rather than the activity the poet undertakes, that is most needed by a society of readers: like Rorty, Berry's ideal poet is distinguished by his "extraordinary knowledge or experience" and precisely not "a gift and a love of language." 8   This is more than simply a veiled attack upon the remnants of confessionalism or even a precocious one against the then budding "language poets." Historically speaking, there is nothing surprising about Berry's insistence that poets' language not be simply extravagant. However, what is historically peculiar about this delamination between the poet's experience and the poet's language is that these two elements should be posed against one another as antipodes, forming a binary. Yet neither Rich nor Chappell nor Berry chooses to understand the problem in historical terms.

       If viewed in a historical light, we might see that, contrary to the words of Wendell Berry, our poets have not "turned inward": they have instead been refashioned by recent history, and their interiors have been remodelled for them by the milieu of literary culture since the rise of creative writing, such that they are expected, in a broad cultural sense, to be beings more who experience than who write. This is a turn toward personal experience that occurred long before the supposed bugaboo of so-called confessionalism.

       How is it that poets and poetry have come to be seen in this way? Why has the writer's soul become so heavy and her page so light? The easiest answer, and the one most often given, is that our writers have not been living up to the needs of society -- that they somehow, sometime ago, left in a huff of self-importance. The answer not given is that our writers have been bequeathed an ontology of writing -- a curious relation between writing and experience -- out of which they write, and through which their writing is perceived. This dual view of writing, in which poetry and poets are at once seen as solipsistic and socially necessary, and by which the experience of the poet becomes more precious and more prized than her work, has a distinct history. It can be traced in America by the metaphors used by writers and educators since 1880 to describe the relation between language and experience.

2. The Metaphors of Philology and Creative Writing

       D. G. Myers and Gerald Graff have noted the "Germanization" of the structure of American higher education in the 1880s: the rise of English departments with graduate components (the first official English department at Johns Hopkins in 1876), refereed journals (the PMLA first issued in 1884), and graduate and international fellowships. Even the poets of a generation earlier were "Germanized" in a sense: after his undergraduate work, for instance, at Bowdoin College, Longfellow was of course trained in Germany as a philologist; and in the early 1850's the young Walter Whitman was to first hear of the Herderian views of language. What is important to understand is that during the entire academic era of both German and American philology and the artistic age of late romanticism and early Modernism, the metaphor most often used to describe language was that of a vessel which contained the common experience of a people.

       It is for this reason not surprising that the rise of philology in Europe correlated historically with the rise of the German nation state. In the 1914 chairman's address to the Modern Language Association, Julius Goebel reminded his listeners of this point: "We may say that it was primarily the discovery of the conception of nationality, its worth and its importance for modern culture, that made possible the study of the modern languages as we understand it today." 9   It was believed, as Goebel noted in his address, that since language held the spirit of the people, "the true genius of a nation and its enduring life" was nowhere better contained "than in its language and literature." 10  

       Goebel was attempting to remind his listeners of the Herderian view of language and of the importance of philology, since its effectiveness as an educational tool was being increasingly attacked by litterateurs devoted to the idea of the teaching of compositional themes -- Barrett Wendell, Katharine Lee Bates, and George Rice Carpenter among them. (Carpenter was to teach the young novelist John Erskine.) Goebel reasserted it was therefore necessary, in order for that national genius or linguistic spirit to be understood, to study the spoken and written word with scientific rigor and to compare the words of one language with those of other tongues and the spirits they contained. Goebel's erstwhile colleague Wilhelm Dilthey had already outlined the effects of this movement in nineteenth century Germany -- from the view of Kantian aesthetics to the aesthetics of Herder: whereas Kant held that nature was the fount and universal vessel of beauty, Herder was of the mind that each nation had its own aesthetic. 11  

       Herder's view would of course inform not only Whitman and Emerson in America, but a whole generation of democratic nationalists who were interested in founding a new American literature in the early nineteenth century. It was believed the awakening of a vigorous national consciousness hinged directly upon the vivifying of America's artists as American artists. The metaphor of language as vessel was central to this project: experience, language, and the universal spirit were considered things we were all immersed within. To speak and to write, to create literature, was to express this spirit. F. O. Matthiessen quotes Whitman on this matter from an 1845 review in The Broadway Journal, for which Poe was serving as editor: "'No human power can thoroughly suppress the spirit which lives in national lyrics, and sounds in the favorite melodies sung by high and low.'" 12   Matthiessen then goes on to quote from the final (1888) preface to Leaves of Grass, in which Whitman acknowledges that the poet, his nation, and his poetry are inseparable: "'what Herder taught to the young Goethe, that really great poetry is always ... the result of a national spirit, and not the privilege of the polished and select few....'" 13   Here is Thoreau in 1856 from a letter to his classmate H.G.O. Blake concerning Whitman's then recently published Leaves of Grass:

"One woman told me that no woman could read it as if a man could read what a woman could not [sic]. Of course Walt Whitman can communicate to us no experience, and if we are shocked, whose experience is it that we are reminded of? On the whole it sounds to me very brave and American ...." 14  
Thoreau is obviously here not trying to say that experience cannot be shared because we are each drastically isolated beings; rather, he is saying that experience cannot be communicated because we are each immersed within a common American experience. We are reminded of our own experience, the letter indicates, because we are wedded in a very brave and American experience.

       But by 1909, a short 21 years after Whitman's last edition, Bliss Perry, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly, could lament a sharp loss of this national feeling and its reflection in American poetry: "Yet how rarely, in the mass of lyric verse, does one catch the national note! More sonnets are written about John Keats than about the United States of America...." 15   Three years later Perry would characterize the difference between Whitman's age and his own not only in terms of a loss of national feeling, but a heightened and unhealthy sense of individuality at the expense of "fellowship." Perry describes this new age as one that, like Whitman's, is "based upon individualism," but is lacking "comradeship": Leaves of Grass "sets these strong persons upon the 'open road' in comradeship; it is the sentiment of comradeship which creates the indissoluble union of 'these States.'" 16   As we shall see, there was at this time not only a distinctly felt social awareness of a decrease in community feeling and the poet's relation to that community, but a strong departure in the early writing programs of that time in the use of the vessel as a metaphor to describe language.

       By the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, the speaking, writing, and the creation of literature were no longer considered an endeavor involving the expression of a national spirit -- nor even of a community spirit. This new spirit is eventually articulated in the portraiture books of early modernism, notably in E. A. Robinson's Miniver Cheevy and Other Poems and Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology of 1915 -- the latter providing as centerpiece the famous portrait of Petit, the poet, who is divorced from the life of the village, who is "blind" to it though it is bustling all around him: "Life all around me here in the village/....Blind to all of it all my life long/....While Homer and Whitman roared in the pines." Masters, like Perry before him, recognized the arrival of a new kind of poet: one who, as we will see, conveyed and lived a life unusually separated from the village. Indeed, by 1934 and the publication of John Dewey's Art as Experience, something had drastically changed: Whitman's and Perry's use of such terms as "national spirit," "genius of a nation," and its "enduring life" had become problematic -- indicating in fact that the poetics of democratic nationalism had in fact given over to a poetics of liberal democracy, in which each individual was now wrapped within a unique experience discreet from a common life. By 1934, then, it becomes possible for Dewey to state,

"The possibility of the occurrence of genuine communication is a broad problem.... It is a fact that it takes place, but the nature of community of experience [sic] is one of the most serious problems of philosophy.... The existence of communication is so disparate to our physical separation from one another and to the inner mental lives of individuals that it is not surprising that supernatural force has been ascribed to language and communion has been given sacramental value." 17  

       This language stands in strong contradistinction not only to that of Thoreau of 1856 (mentioned above) and Whitman's of 1888, but also to Bliss Perry's only twenty years prior. Thoreau had maintained we were immersed in a common experience, Whitman that writers express and communicate a common feeling, and Perry had spoken in an optative mood about his "indissoluble union." The shift from language as a vessel of a common life to language as a means of communication between physically discreet individuals and their "inner mental lives" indicates a drastic change in the common cultural understanding of the relationship between language and experience in America. Indeed, if we take Adrienne Rich at her word, that we live in an age in which the "personal life" is "the only life we can bear witness to," we can understand that a great deal has changed -- just as Edgar Lee Masters had hinted -- since both Whitman's and Perry's eras. The valency of this change can be understood by scrutinizing the tenets of the early educators of creative writing.

3. Creative Writing and Personal Experience

       It is not until the rise of creative writing, that writing becomes burdened with egalitarian and communicative issues, that the ontology of language becomes inverted, or, as it were, atomized: language and experience on this account are no longer a vessel of the Weltgeist in which one is immersed; rather, they become things contained within individuals, such that -- to jump forward briefly -- Alfred Kazin can state in the introduction to Writers at Work of 1967, "This (like the whole Ginsberg interview) offers up...the notion...that we are all equally vessels of God's truth, but that only the poet-as-prophet has the vision to yield up what is in him." 18   The individual here becomes the vessel of a vital experience. Or as Robert Pinsky has it as recently as March, 1996:

"Contrary to the vision of Leaves of Grass, poetry may not hold us together in the mass; yet we seem to carry it as the vessel of some valuable property, the property, perhaps, of a singular imagination inside some one of us. Such imagination sometimes finds its actual voice in poetry." 19  
"It" resides inside the imagination of some one of us, which holds it as a vessel: we do not reside, as we had -- to use Whitman's famed word -- en masse, within it.

       Creative writing was for very specific reasons from its very inception wound-up with concerns of individuated experience. The first to teach it by name was William Hughes Mearns (1875-1965). 20   Creative writing's goal, as understood by Mearns and the entire generation of progressivist educators he influenced, was more "self-realization" or "creative growth" than the crafting of a fine poem or short story. Mearns' interest was with "self-expression as a means of growth, and not of poetry....The business of making professional poets [indeed, few had yet been made] is still another matter -- with which this writer has never had the least interest." 21  

       Mearns' experiments at Lincoln School, under the auspices of Columbia University and John Dewey, lit a fuse under the nation after the publication of his two books on the teaching of creative writing, Creative Youth and Creative Power, in 1925 and 1929. His first book caused such waves in secondary schooling, and the adoption of his methods was so precipitous, that by 1929 the New York City school board had hired a Dr. Blanche F. Weekes to determine why elementary students were shying from "serious poetry," and it was determined "there is over-emphasis on nature poetry and that greater consideration should be given by teachers to themes more in harmony with the child's probable experience." The projects adopted by school boards around the nation concerning both the reading and writing of poetry were predicated on the "child's...experience." This idea sold so well to the public that by 1938 Christina Johnson could write in the English Journal that the writing of poetry in fact leads to "selfhood" and "personal identity." 23   Mearns said, astonished, "[w]ith characteristic hustle America has suddenly adopted 'creative work.'" 24   Indeed, by 1930, roughly forty-five percent of American colleges possessed at least one creative writing course, and many of these offered two or three courses in different genres. 25   To this day the personal experience of the writer has been so foregrounded that the writer William Gass prefers not to teach courses in creative writing because, as he puts it, "I hate dealing with people's souls." 26   Richard Hugo (1923-1982) was more amenable to this new turn toward personal experience in the academy. A member of the University of Montana's English Department from 1964 to his death in 1982, he spoke often and favorably of creative writing programs as centers of personal refuge. Their current flyer for the creative writing program still quotes Hugo on this matter: "a creative writing class may be one of the last places where you can go where your life still matters." 27  

       What lay behind Mearns' missionary zeal about creative writing was his assumption that we are each an isolato, that each student was sequestered in his own life. It was his contention -- indeed, religion -- that creative writing was a technique by which experience could be conveyed from individual to individual: Mearns called it simply the "transfer of experience." Because each student was so fundamentally isolated, his only recourse when writing was to delve into himself:

"'I can't tell you what you should write about,' is the commonest approach to a new pupil, 'because I don't know what you know; but I could tell you what I want to write about myself.' Then follows a vivid picturing of recent and remote experience, so personal that no one else would dream of using the material. 'That's the sort of experience I am having, but, of course, you wouldn't know enough about that. Now you -- what sort of experience have you been having? What do you think about most of the time?'" 28  

       And so on. Just as Dewey envisioned the role of art in general as a medium by which experience could be shared between individuals, Mearns felt that creative writing in particular was an especially efficient means of effecting this transfer. 29   The import of Mearns' ideas about isolated experience were so influential that in 1993, Adrienne Rich (b. 1929) -- herself the product of a Mearnsian classroom at Radcliffe -- could write, "[w]e ... go to poetry to receive the experience of the not me, enter a field of vision we could not otherwise apprehend." 30  

       The influence of the Mearnsian doctrine that poetry reflect a writer's experience has so permeated contemporary American poetics that readers will often brook no violation of its tenets. A July 1996 article in the APR tried the limits of these tenets by announcing to the world the arrival of Japanese-born (albeit deceased) poet, Araki Yasusada, an alleged survivor of Hiroshima, whose "fourteen spiral bound notebooks" were found by his son. When the subject of the coverage in the recent APR "special supplement" "Introducing Araki Yasusada" was shown to be a "hoax," a healthy degree of outrage was levelled at the perpetrator. 31   The accused prankster, some have argued, apparently created this fictional poet while writing his doctoral dissertation at Bowling Green State University. Kent Johnson, the man to whom many point as the author, quite rightly insists the word "hoax" does no justice to the work itself, insofar as the term limits the cultural, aesthetic, and political scope of the Yasusada manuscripts. The interesting thing about the most vituperative of the criticisms levelled against whoever wrote the work isn't so much that bad poetry had been traded against an exotic biography (a biography which in turn proved to be false) -- the poetry, it is generally agreed, is good -- nor was it so much that Yasusada's nonexistence proved to be in bad taste (having been billed as a survivor of Hiroshima). The outrage, I think, arose in large measure because Yasusada's creator had broken the primary tenet of our mainstream Mearnsian milieu: that a poet's work portray his experience. In an era of isolation, we cannot afford counterfeiters. 32  

4. Democracy, Isolation, and the Poetics of Discovery

       As a progressivist teacher of writing, Mearns was concerned there be an egalitarian relationship between the teacher and student, as well as among the students themselves. Mearns' two books make it very clear he obviously didn't want to create hierarchies out of the talented and untalented in his classrooms -- indeed he was reluctant to discuss "talent" at all. 33   When pressed about the genetic aspects of writing, he emphasized the "mystery" or the "secrets" of the creative process. 34   Works came from somewhere within, but from where precisely and by what meanderings exactly, he was always reluctant to say. His goal was simply "to touch some of the secret sources of [students'] lives." 35   The simple fact that a writer was a living being, with experience -- not necessarily an artist with a distinct and extraordinary "creative process" -- was enough for his pedagogical needs. It was the nature of individual experience itself that was secret -- and must consequently be left alone -- not the especial nature of the writer, manifesting as talent or defect, that was important. Mearns said that "Each poet here has his own individual song," and to Mearns every student was at bottom a poet. 36  

       It was precisely this "individual song" that allowed Mearns to maintain an egalitarian pedagogy and to sidestep the issue of talent in his teaching. Mearns characterized this "individual song" as an internal unwritten work within each student. By encouraging his students to turn inward to their own experiences, he was not expecting them to find within themselves a talent to create a poem or to fashion a story. Rather, they were to discover a work already present but unwritten. This work-as-yet-unwritten arose from what were the ineluctable necessities of a progressivist educator involved in the democratic teaching of creative art: since it would have been a democratic heresy to attribute talent to some students and not to others, Mearns simply ascribed stories to their interiors. What then distinguished one poet from another was not innate, undemocratic talent, but a patience to uncover the poem within. To Mearns and his students, then, the effort to bring these unwritten stories to light of day was not a matter of craft so much as a matter of waiting and attentiveness:

"Eventually -- if one does not exact a "composition" every Monday morning -- something emerges, and, like as not, it will be worth waiting for: We waited two months for Nigger and Social Life in a Southwest Corral, two of the best pieces of transferred experience the school has published." 37  
A "something" emerges from the vestibule of the individual which is recognized as experience and, being read, is experienced again. This work-within was very real to Mearns and his students: "Her friend volunteered as an apology, 'She said she had a poem in her, and that if she had to stay in this room another minute without writing it she would scream.'" 38   Mearns wrote, "I tell them of Santayana's remark...that for him it was often simply the irrepressible urge to put something-he-knew-not-what down upon a piece of blank paper, although he said he got to expect from past performances that a poem was about to emerge...if he was patient and waited...." 39   Mearns asserted flatly and repeatedly about his students that "[t]heir impulse at its best is to place something in the outside world that is already (or almost already) in their inside world...." 40  

       This new found work -- a kind of nondum -- marks a drastic departure from the romantic view of the interiority of artistic process. It is the first new bit of furniture placed inside the modern artist, and stands as a kind of forerunner to a wholesale remodelling of her interior. Even to this day Joseph Moxley tells us that "we need to treat all student writing as emerging texts...." 41   If this interior unwritten work signals not only the birth of a new metaphor to describe language, but also the seed of our current valorization of the poet and the repudiation of her outward work, the importance of its role -- in both the history of American poetics and in the relation of the democratic poet to her community -- cannot be overstated. The work-as-yet-unwritten to this day represents the keystone of a writer's experience and has become since its inception in the classrooms of creative writing a very important piece in the mosaic of democratic ontology.

       Prior mention of this interior work can, of course, be found in the German romanticism of Friedrich Schlegel's Literary Aphorisms. Schlegel believed there was a novel in every man. 42   But the important difference between the two views, which exemplifies precisely the difference between their two ages -- that of a "Germanized" aesthetic versus that of an egalitarian milieu -- is that Mearns felt this nondum must be communicated: it was a work-as-yet-unwritten, whereas Schlegel said that it need not be written down at all. 43   The democratic imperative of communication did not appear in Schlegel's theorizing. Furthermore, Schlegel's interior work was present only in educated persons, whereas Mearns insisted that it resided in everyone. To Mearns the work-not-yet-written was considered less a sign of originality and self-worth, as it was for Schlegel, than a signal of the need to communicate and a mark of isolation. Mearns felt so strongly about the social necessity of expression that he formulated it as a natural drive: "Evidently poetic expression is one of our primal instincts." 44   To be sure, the work-not-yet-written could not have arisen anywhere but in a democratic classroom at the end of the romantic era, where the divergent issues of talent and equality came together and demanded new theories and novel approaches: it had become imperative in a progressivist age to speak; there was a need for a colloquy of interiors -- for, as E. E. Stoll remarked in 1932, to the new progressivist pedagogy, in its attempt to yoke the individual and the democratic spirit, "art [was] a state of the soul, communicated." 45   It was believed we had moved away from an age of wedded experience, and it was thus imperative that we share and express our various and disparate lives. In fact the Cornell professor Lane Cooper in 1910 was so concerned about the importance placed upon expression for the sake of democracy that he spoke out against the use of the very concept of expression, fearing universities were doing nothing more than turning out "nimble penmen": "Even in a democracy it may now and then be true that silence is golden, and long, barren silence better than personal talk." 46   Professor Cooper's side has apparently lost sway -- even today we are told,

"There is nothing as dangerous as blank paper....the absence of expression is more dangerous to humanity, individually and collectively, than any form of expression can be. Silence is not golden; expression is." 47  

       Of this age and this new turn toward the democratic freighting of personal experience and expression since the rise of creative writing, Irving Babbitt would say in 1932 that katharsis had moved from the reader, where it properly belonged, to the writer. To be sure, the fact that a vast number of students now feel the need to become poets in America has not escaped the attention of many non-American poets. Derek Walcott for instance recently asked how it is that "so many [have] made almost a frantic claim to the right to be poets in [this] culture? I'm not American, so I don't go through that." 48   Maybe to some degree more are now compelled to become artists who in Schlegel's age -- and perhaps still Cooper's -- would have been granted the opportunity of silence and the privilege of taciturnity. 49   This is our legacy: we each, to this day, "have a story," something as-yet-unwritten which must be found, and once found, recorded.

       This basic premise of the creative writer as isolato has carried forward to inform the poetics of recent years in a recognizable and distinct manner: from Hughes Mearns ("poetry is when you talk to yourself") 50   to Diane Wakoski in 1973 ("It is talking to yourself in the kitchen. But if it speaks to one person, then it is a poem") 51   to Delmore Schwartz ("Like some tormented figure in a myth, Delmore Schwartz acted out in his life, as he wrote of it in poems and stories, the alienation of the poet from our society") 52   to Dave Smith in 1975 ("We live in an isolation within ourselves and with ourselves, a total and terrible isolation, because we cannot and are not, parted from the womb, truly a part of any other") 53   back to Mearns ("[W]e drive them back upon themselves, drive them to search within, a boundless field and rich beyond expectation") to Russell Edson in 1975 ("One comes to the writing table with one's own hidden life....") 54   to Frank Bidart in 1983 ("I knew that Lowell's experience of the world he came from, and himself as an actor in it [sic], was very different from my experience"); 55   and finally to Derek Walcott in an interview with David Montenegro in 1987 ( "I've always wondered about the sense of isolation of the American poets that is so acute in contemporary American poetry....How come there was such adulation and yet such isolation at the same time?)" 56   This is worth thinking about. It is precisely this question that sums up the peculiar nature of the post-progressivist era of creative writing: how can such repudiated solipsism be wedded to such social valuation?

       The common academic myth is that the writers cited directly above -- from Edson all the way to Bidart (with the exception of Schwartz and Mearns) -- turned to their own lives as a means of escaping the formal tenets of New Criticism and Modernist poetry. 57   Yet the history itself suggests that the poets who have followed in the wake of creative writing and its democratic freighting are neither particularly revolutionary nor "isolated by the specialization of their art," as Wendell Berry in 1974 and Edwin Muir in 1955 would have it. 58   Their art -- rather, the art of this age -- was first born as an isolated thing. This latest "liberation of the poet" is nothing more than the legacy of the democratic freighting of writing -- itself a severe inversion of the romantic ontology of language.

5. From Creation to Discovery and Randomness

       It is a current academic commonplace to attribute the rise of a poetics of randomness and discovery to the recent vogue of the Saussurean and Continental views of language. In this view, language is by nature, and by turns, aleatoric, stochastic, random, arbitrary, etc. This is the theoretical view. The historical view presents us with a different story.

       Just as "art" supplanted religious ideals with the rise of romanticism, so now has a poetics of randomness taken the place of talent with the rise of the democratic creative writing classroom. 59   If the poem is already present, as Mearns for egalitarian reasons insisted it is, the artist is no longer a creator in the strict sense of the word, but one who discovers what is already there. Mearns in fact so eschewed the idea of creator, and its inevitable association with the idea of genius, that he preferred the term "creativist" to it. 60   In the 1930s Faulkner was repeatedly to remind his interviewers that it is "[t]he material itself" that "dictates how it should be written." 61   Or as William Stafford has it, "a book has always been something that grew and declared itself." 62   We begin to notice that the relation of the agency of the artist to his work changes subtly in this new ontological milieu. Mike Madonick, a creative writer at University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, likens the poem to a javelin:

"All it wants to do is fly; all you can do is mess it up. All you can do is get in the way of its wanting to fly -- or you can let it go. In fact, one needs to give faith over to the pen and let the poem write itself. The poem will tell you what to do." 63  
The artist's role in the formation of an art product suffers a subtle rearrangement: the agency of the artist is mildly diminished. Indeed, by 1934 Dewey could write -- again, in Art as Experience -- that it is nothing short of the world that "ex-presses" the poem from the poet. Dewey writes:
"Speaking of the production of poetry, Samuel Alexander remarked that 'the artist's work proceeds not from a finished imaginative experience to which the work of art corresponds, but from passionate excitement about the subject matter....The poet's poem is wrung from him by the subject which excites him.'" 64  
About this Dewey further comments: "The thing expressed is wrung from the producer by the pressure exercised by objective things upon the natural impulses and tendencies-- so far is expression from being the direct and immaculate issue of the latter." 65   That is to say: to Dewey the placement of art in the world does not rely on talent per se (natural impulses and tendencies) but rather is pushed out -- from its preexisting state -- into the world by the world: "the poet's poem is wrung from him." Dewey's and Mearns' comments show a pentimento-like relationship between two different poetics -- that of creation and that of discovery. The artist does not so much create, though the poem is ex-pressed. There was no room by the 1930s for the ideal of creation in an egalitarian milieu -- but there remained a distinct and strong element of personal experience as a necessary factor in the creation of decent art. That is to say, on the one hand, this age was witness to a diminishment of the ideal of "genius" or personal production; on the other, there remained a strong vein that supported the necessity and importance of the individual's life in the creation of decent poetry. Indeed, even today Christopher Clausen has said that of the many inevitable things critics write about when they say they are writing about poetry are the "features of the world that 'produced' the poem, including most often the biography of the writer." 66  

       So there is indication that by 1934 at least, Coleridge's "principle of creation" was giving over to a principle of discovery. The garden-variety critical commentary and poetics in the intervening decades have increasingly adopted this new poetics of discovery and randomness. The repercussions of this are seen in such comments as Robert Frost's of 1939, in which he says a successful poem "runs a course of lucky events," 67   or Eudora Welty's of 1976, "Wherever you go, you meet a part of your story," 68   or William Stafford in 1986: "my poems...are not to my mind crafted objects but little discoveries of language." 69   In an October, 1961 letter to then LeRoi Jones, Edward Dorn was compelled to defend the phrasing of some lines in his poem "An Address to the First Woman to Face Death in Havana -- Olga Herrara Marcos." Jones had insisted some lines were "counter-revolutionary," and Dorn replied that "[a] statement in a poem such as I sent you is highly accidental, in the same way junk-gathering sculpture is, and gratifying accidents are a really bigger part of the West than that aestheticism you mention." 70   What aestheticism Jones had mentioned does not come to light, but it is obvious Dorn found a poetics of accident sufficient to defend the politics of his own poetry and deny culpability for aspects of its composition.

       Because he began writing in the middle 1950s, the work of Robert Creeley spans the decades of this shift toward discovery and loss of agency nicely. In these decades, the egalitarian view of who was a poet (in Mearns' view, everyone) and what the poet did (wait, attend to experience, and discover) came to the institutional fore, and undermined the lodged and superannuated ideal of creation. In his essay of 1974, "Was That A Real Poem or Did You Just Make It Up Yourself?" Robert Creeley describes how his views of poetic agency and genesis were drastically changed around 1960. The italics are his: "The intensive, singularly made poems of my youth faded....and I worked to be open to the casual, the commonplace, that which collected itself. The world transformed to bits of paper...." 71   On the one hand, Creeley describes his early period (roughly 1955 to 1960) as one of active manufacture; on the other, he characterizes his later period as a phase of passivity -- the world collecting and transforming itself into poetry. Creeley:

"The title for these divers thoughts comes from a lovely story told me about 1960 by John Frederick Nims in Chicago as he afforded us a charming lunch in his role as editor of Poetry. It concerned a friend of his, another poet, who had been on a tour of readings in the Middle West. And, as was his wont, he invited questions from the audience at one particular college, on completion of his reading. And a guy puts up his hand and says, tell me, that next to last poem you read -- was that a real poem or did you just make it up yourself?" 72  
What Creeley understood from this story was that simply to have composed the poem would have resulted in an inauthentic work: just as, in William Stafford's terms, the ideal poet would be someone who "allowed" the poem to emerge, so also, in Creeley's terms, the ideal poem would be one that collected itself. Indeed, Creeley's poetics of discovery are slightly predated by and run concurrent to William Burroughs' experiments with cut-up poetry/fiction in the 1950s. And in the same year Creeley was writing his essay "Was that a Real Poem," James Merrill was writing and publishing his ouija-board poems, later collected into The Book of Ephraim (1976). In 1973 the poet Robert Kelly would describe the poet as principally one who discovers: "The poet is the discoverer of relation." 73   Charles Simic (b. 1938) first adopted a poetics of discovery early in his career -- in the early 1960s, that is. His recent Dime Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell (1992) is as much an exposition of Cornell's art of collage as it is of Simic's own poetics, and it is a testimony to his continued allegiance to a poetics of discovery, randomness, and collage: "[F]or a long time I wanted to approximate [Cornell's] method, make poems from found bits of language." 74   He insists,
"You don't make art, you find it. You accept everything as its material....The collage technique, that art of reassembling fragments of preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image, is the most important innovation in the art of this century. Found objects, chance creations, ready-mades...abolish the separation between art and life." 75  

       In fact, by the late 1980s, creation and craft (in the active sense) had begun to take such a backseat to a poetics of discovery that the agency of the artist in the formation of poetry and fiction was in some cases rendered even into terms of accident and randomness, all sense of agency, as with Madonick's words above, being removed from the author: " is best to enter a story 'open-handed'...and then discover [it], through...trial and error...." 76   The headnote to Eileen Myles' poems in the 1994 edition of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology has it that "In Myles' view, 'going out to get a poem' is like hunting...." 77   Dave Smith writes, "[i]f the poet does not know what statement he will come to, he knows that when he has found a few compelling words he is going to find next a context." 78  

       In the same way that the nondum is first not created but found, and is, second, not created but is wrung from the artist by the world, so also is it the poem (and no longer the artist) that is seen to be communicating with the world: "For it is the poem which communicates with us; and it does this, in great poetry, long after the poet's death." 79   The transferring of experience, then, is also eventually removed from the faculties of the poet, just as the ability to "create" had previously been removed. We understand the poem, Edwin Muir tells us in his C.E. Norton Lectures of 1955, "certainly not because the poet sets out with the idea that he must communicate," but because his poem conveys its own meaning distinct from the intention of the poet. 80   When Eliot writes in "The Modern Mind" (from his Norton lectures of 1932-3) that "...what a poem means is as much what it means to others as what it means to the author," 81   we begin to see with the rise of New Criticism that the intention of the author is removed from his finished piece.

       Complementary to the shifting of agency from poet to poem and movement from a milieu of creation to one of discovery, was a simultaneous infusion of the poem with the psychological characteristics normally attributed to people. This habit so took root in the minds of poets that Edwin Muir, again in his Norton Lectures, could speak of "the emotion of the poem itself," 82   and in 1963 A. D. Hope could write, in a statement of ontological dishabille, on

"the view that poetry is primarily self-expression[:] On this view the subject becomes a means by which the poet expresses himself, his views, his feelings, his lyric personality. I hold, on the contrary, that poetry is principally concerned to 'express' its subject and is doing so to create an emotion which is the feeling of the poem and not the feeling of the poet." 83  
As with Eliot's words above, it is here the poem which has feeling, the poem which has emotion, and the poem which has intention. Though this view was key to New Critical poetics, it has also informed the poetics of both the New York School and the Language poets Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, and Michael Palmer, among others. John Ashbery's poem of 1981, "Paradoxes and Oxymorons," baldly puts it this way: "This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level./ Look at it talking to you. You look out a window/ Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don't have it./ You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other." 84   Indeed, Linda Reinfeld insists in a chapter on the Language poet Susan Howe, in Language Poetry: Writing as Rescue, that it's "[n]ot that the writer's intention is a measure of the text. The text in its most mysterious moments accounts for itself." 85  

6. Experience versus Language

       Prior to the shift from the milieu of creation to that of discovery (and the consequent alteration of artistic agency) -- and exactly concurrent with the rise of progressivist ideals about personal experience in education -- is the shift in the arena of criticism regarding where the writer's focus should be placed. This change in focus from composition concerns to experiential concerns is explicated as early as 1917 in T.S. Eliot's essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Though certainly not Eliot's main argument, his theoretical concern in this essay has more to do with a sounder relationship between the artist and the emotions he manages to promulgate than with the creation of decent art. Eliot writes, "very few know when there is an expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach his impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done." 86   It is difficult not to notice what Eliot sees as the goal of the artist: it is not ultimately the poem. The things to be got at are, on the one hand, the impersonality of the artist, and on the other the emotional state that the artist conveys or infuses into his poem. The "work to be done" is simply the means to this new end. The New Critical separation of poet from poem and the simultaneous manipulation of experience necessary to the modern poet belie the irony of this new era: that the attempt to remove the cloying presence of the poet from the understanding of her poetry was the first certain step taken by the poets themselves toward what would later be repudiated as a solipsistic stance. The point, however, is that it was not their choice to become specialized -- it was to free up their poetry so that a wider breadth of meaning might be available to others.

       Given that his ideas about art were informed strongly, as he hints in his preface, by his readings in modernist literary criticism, Dewey's book Art as Experience nicely articulates this particular facet of the history. He writes:

"[Poe] is telling about what went on when he wrote "The Raven", and says: 'The public is rarely permitted to take a peep behind the scenes at the vacillating crudities, of the true purpose seized at the last moment, at the wheels and pinions, the tackle for scene shifting, the step ladders and demon traps, the red paint and black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.' ....[T]he substance of what he says is a picturesque presentation of a sober fact. The primitive and raw material of experience needs to be reworked in order to secure artistic expression." 87  
It is interesting that Poe has here written about the making of poetry using the metaphor of the theater -- in which the materials and mechanics of craft are manipulated. He is thinking about his poetry as craft and representation. Dewey, on the other hand, is not talking in terms of a representation at all, but of a reworking of nothing less than experience; and in doing so, Dewey and the progressivists, following Eliot and the New Critics, reformulated art more as an askesis than a craft. Indeed, by the 1930s and the melding of the critical and educational projects, the poet was being redefined less as someone who writes in order to transfer his experience than as someone who manipulates his experience in order to write. The tenor of this new era was one in which the project of art as a communicator of experience was being abandoned in favor of art as a manipulation of the same. The artist himself, in this new time, was thus thrown back upon his own experiences in such a way that John Crowe Ransom could write in 1938,
"Our period differs outwardly from other periods because it first differs inwardly. Its spiritual temper is puritanical; that is, it craves to perfect the parts of experience separately or in purity, and is a series of isolated perfections." 88  
The poet's soul here begins to stand as a thing distinct, manipulable, precious, and insular -- in a way far different from the romantic and early Modernist eras. The writer is infused with a preciosity of self-awareness, his attitude becomes all-important: "Too much humility and the writer will dissolve into silence; too much confidence and the writer will arrogantly inflict reams of ill-chosen words on the reader." 89   Who the writer is is brought into question. His psychology is at issue, not his relation with the public, language or the nature of the world, as it had been for Schlegel, Coleridge, Jones Very, Whitman, Bliss Perry, or Edgar Lee Masters.

       The artist's path, since the 1930s and precedence of personal experience in the doxologies of writing, seems to have become all the narrower, his world increasingly hermetic: his agency diminished, his psychology in continual need of maintenance, and his poetry, once written, possessing a life and voice of its own; he has only, after all this, his experience. Delmore Schwartz, in 1941, put it this way in his characteristic melodramatic fashion: "[T]he only life available to the man of culture has been the cultivation of his own sensibility, that is the only subject available to him, if we may assume that a poet can only write about subjects of which he has an absorbing experience in every sense." 90   These are the first distinct historical footpaths over which poetry would later become both an askesis and vehicle of personal liberation for the professional poet -- and by which the poet would later become widely envied by society at large as a person with a unique relationship to his own experience, while his poetry would be criticized as overly self-involved.

       Given its focus on experience and individuation, the effects of creative writing's progressivist history on American poetics account in part for the rise of the so-called confessional school. In discussing future poetic projects with Frederick Seidel, Robert Lowell in 1961 indicates his need to let go his more personal subject matter, but insists his private "experience" tugs at him: "I feel I haven't gotten down all my experience, or perhaps even the most important part, but I've said all I really have much inspiration to say...." 91   In a similar vein in 1974, and in much the same fashion that Lane Cooper and Edgar Stoll noted the imperative toward communication in the progressivist era in Mearns' heyday, Robert Creeley recognizes there is something about his age, this age, that compels something strongly autobiographical: "I am very much a person of my time in wanting to leave a record, a composite fact of the experience of living...." 92   Frank Bidart notes in an interview with Mark Halliday in 1983, that

"The heart of my first book [published in 1973] was, as you say, autobiographical....I wrote a lot of poems before the poems in my first book, Golden State, but they were terrible; no good at all. I was doing what many people start out by doing, trying to be 'universal' by making the entire poem out of assertions and generalizations about the world....These generalizations, shorn of experience, were pretty simple-minded and banal." 93  
Constrained by the milieu in which he began writing, Bidart soon realized that his early poems, shorn of personal experience, did not pass the aesthetic muster of his time. Nor is it altogether surprising that Frank Bidart's aesthetics should have so drastically altered during the late 1960s -- a time when the poetics of many others -- Creeley, Lowell, Simic, and Rich among them -- were also changed. Given the fact that most all the poets of recent decades who were writing in the 1960s mark a drastic change in their career in the early 1960s -- Creeley, Bidart, Simic, Merrill, Lowell, Rich (all of whose aesthetic reconsiderations in some way hinged upon the idea of personal experience) -- how, then, have craft and experience played themselves out in the poetics of the last thirty years?

       The short answer is that they have done so in the form of a binary between craft and experience, and that hidden in this binary is the assumption of a zero-sum game: the more craft a poem exhibits, the less experience it is seen to carry. The more, in other words, it displays the conventions of poetry, the less "real" it seems, or the less worth it possesses. Lowell insisted in 1968 that the idea of this binary even informed Delmore Schwartz's poetics: "He felt the poet who had experience was very much better than the poet with polish." 94   While talking about the relation a poet has to his or her work in an interview with James Randall in 1981, Michael Harper articulates his point about poetic accuracy by referring again to the assumed binary between craft and experience: "It's a responsibility to be essentially accurate to both questions of form, the craft of the poet, and true to experience." 95   More recently, Charles Bernstein -- arguably one of the most benighted and boring writers in the United States -- has shown how he predicates what he considers his avant-garde poetics on this zero-sum game: "As if poetry were a craft that there is a right way or wrong way to do: in which case, I prefer the wrong way -- anything better than the well-wrought epiphany of predictable measure -- for at least the cracks and flaws and awkwardnesses show signs of life." 96  

       This historically influenced binary and the bias toward conveying and representing "experience" certainly serves to explain the emergence of prose poems and the general and recent trend in poetry toward a prosier texture. Indeed, prose has since the 1960s been a measuring stick against which poetry is considered wanting. James Wright, during an interview in 1979, tells Bruce Henrickson he has a certain distrust of anything but a "flat voice," and that "[t]his has led me to write some prose pieces....I have a tendency to get too lush with sounds and I have a tendency to get too lost in the confusion of certain figures of speech." 97   Wright explains himself via the experience/craft binary and confesses he wishes he himself would "pay attention to the things" in his own life, or the things "right in front of my eyes" rather than focus on language. Regarding the specialization of poetry and its hermetic nature, Robert Lowell, while airing his concern in discussion with Frederick Seidel that poetry has become far too isolated from the popular audience -- a bromide popular since the 1930s -- also uses the familiar binary between craft and experience to drive home his point: "The writing seems divorced from culture somehow. It's become too much something specialized that can't handle much experience. It's become a craft, purely a craft, and there must be some breakthrough back into life." He asserts also that "on the whole prose is less cut off from life than poetry is." 98  

       In a 1966 discussion of Anne Bradstreet, Adrienne Rich draws distinct parallels between Bradstreet's career and her own -- and she does so employing a binary between craft and experience. In her essay, "The Tensions of Anne Bradstreet," Rich argues that Bradstreet, as a young poet, escaped the harsh realities of her own personal experiences by taking refuge in the formulaic intricacies of traditional verse:

"Present experience was still too raw, one sought relief from its daily impact in turning Raleigh and Camden into rhymed couplets, recalling a scenery and a culture denied by the wilderness. Yet it is arguable that the verse which gained her serious acceptance in her own time was a psychological stepping-stone to the later poems which have kept her alive for us." 99  
Here Bradstreet's earlier verse, being rigidly formal, provides an escape from the "daily impact" of "present experience," but it is of course not 'alive.' The great writer must, afterall, embrace her experience.

       In a comparison between prose poetry and more traditional verse, Russell Edson in 1975 sees the actual act of writing a prose poem as an experience that is qualified as neither literary, nor product oriented -- it is the experience of the artist, not the aesthetic outcome that is paramount: "The spirit or approach which is represented in the prose poem is not specifically literary....[T]he writing of a prose poem is more of an experience than a labor toward a product. If the finished prose poem is considered a piece of literature, this is quite incidental to the writing." 100  

       In attempting to enumerate the ways poets use prose for poetic ends, Brooke Horvath, in the 1991 article in American Poetry Review, "The Prose Poem and The Secret Life of Poetry," makes a strong, fundamental, and explicit comparison between prose and poetry that belies an interesting ontological assumption about prose. 101   Prose is truer to life than poetry is; poetry is too "literary" and prose is genuine. The author's ninth point: "That the prose poem allows for the recuperation of the poetic amid the prose of existence." 102   Here prose is analogous to an ontological ground -- in itself not surprising. But, prose is also considered to be truer, realer, to provide a more privileged access to the world:

"When I asked [Marianne Boruch] during an interview how she wished readers to respond to her poems, she remarked that, initially, she hoped they would 'believe [her] on a literal level. This is a real place, it's a real flowerpot, it's not some symbol for death. Grasp the poem on a literal, surface level the way one would prose....'"
Indeed, it is only fitting that Robert Kroetsch should have entitled his book of prose poetry cum diary entries Excerpts from the Real World. 103   By contrast, poetry has of late been thought of as precisely that which is not real, that which cannot be trusted -- a bouquet of symbols, even lies. Frank Bidart's work, for example, has a distinct distrust of anything "literary," in favor of the "literal." He writes in his poem "Golden State" of 1973: "Oh Shank, don't turn into the lies/ of mere, neat poetry...." 104   Since the early 1960s, both a prosier poetry as well as prose itself seem to proffer themselves as an accessible form for both biography and autobiography, an arena of experience peculiar to the artist alone. Even the Bidart poem that most resembles his ars poetica, "Ellen West," is interspersed with prose in the form of diary entries.

       According to the typical academic understanding of the work of poets since the 1960s, both the critic and the poet have been freed from the restrictions of craft; the poet, they seem to say, is no longer a liberator, but the liberated. Thus ironically contrary to what Heidegger and Rorty have recently hoped, today's poets are not liberators; many of them claim instead what appears to many to be nothing more than a petulant personal liberation, which they fail to understand is their historical birthright. It is almost now a standard chapter of a poet's life that she or he describe some struggle and eventual emancipation from the constraints of form or the confines of a particular verse-genre or critical ideology, whether imagism, formalism, new-formalism, new criticism, or the local dogmas of a university workshop.

       We see a clear progression in this history: if intention is removed from craft, if intention is then placed within the poem, if the poet's experience is simultaneously manipulated for art and prized as art, if the poet writes in a new egalitarian milieu, such that the poet "discovers" and does not create, such that the poem communicates and not the poet, such that the artist is made a being who needs experience only, what then is left for the artist to do? What remains of her but her experience alone? What has she become since the kernel of the interior work was planted in her? She is almost completely devoid of intention, yet she is sought out by interviewers. She has by history been fashioned into a creature of solipsism, yet she is theorized upon by political philosophers. She is told that her craft cannot be taught to her, yet she takes her courses and attends her workshops. She is deemed a creature of experience, yet she cannot convey it.

       Who then is the poet and how has she become what she is?

       The response that cannot be given to the birth of this new poet is one that comes as a moral reprobation: he should not be seen to have failed; nor should he be considered a bellows of self-important huffs. What he is, is found in how he has been fashioned by a new view of language, by its democratic freighting, and the consequent wholesale remodelling of his phenomenological anatomy: he has not turned, so much as been sent, inward: the solipsism of modern poetry is not a perfidious invention of "the specialized intellect," as Wendell Berry would have it; 105   nor is it a further rippling of society's specialization, as Muir and Max Eastman and others have cast it;106   rather it is an outgrowth of the democratic seeding of the poet's soul by a work-not-yet-written, and the consequent simultaneous loss of his agency as a creator of art and his debut as a manipulator and recorder of experience. These are the reasons his unwritten and literally unsung views are sought on how to live out our days while his poetry remains unread. He has been caught somewhere between his desk and the world -- and his writing, so some say, shows it. The choices of today's poet in America were made for him long before he either chose to become, or was born undemocratically as, a poet.

       Much as we would like to see a continuity in American poetry that connects our age, as Roy Harvey Pearce saw it, with the age Matthiessen called our Renaissance, we cannot conscionably allow that story to be told again. The emergence of creative writing has cut off not only our view of language from views held in the eras prior to Edgar Lee Masters, but it has also cut off the poet from her own readers, and indeed in some ways her own poetry. Ignorance of this history and this great watershed in American poetics can only constrain our poets to compositional ruts and critical fads. Despite this, few are concerned with the very history of the ideas they write about, and out of which they write.


    1.   Wallace Stevens. "Angel Surrounded by Paysans." The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1990), 496.
       Also, Robin Gee. "Poets, Take Your Roles As Town Criers Seriously" Poet's Market '97, Bugeja and Martin (eds). (Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books). pp 336-338.

    2.   See Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), p. 141.

    3.   Rorty, p. 24.

    4.   William Stafford. You Must Revise Your Life (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1986), p. 74.

    5.   Rich, Adrienne. Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991- 1995. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995), p. 4.

    6.   Fred Chappell, "Maiden Voyages and Their Pilots," The Georgia Review 46, n. 4 (1992): pp. 764-79, 765.

    7.   Ibid., 10.

    8.   Berry, 10. His italics.

    9.   Julius Goebel. "The New Problems of American Scholarship," delivered as The Chairman's Address in PMLA, 25, 1, 1914, pp. lxxiv- lxxxi. lxxix.

    10.   Ibid., p. lxxviii.

    11.   Wilhelm Dilthey . "The Imagination of the Poet: Elements for a Poetics (1887)," translated by Louis Agosta and Rudolf A. Makkreel, Poetry and Experience in volume 5 of Selected Works. p. 47.

    12.   Matthiessen, F.O., American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, 1941, p. 560.

    13.   Ibid., p. 560.

    14.   Henry David Thoreau. Letter to H.G.O. Blake, November 19, 1856. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, fourth edition, Vol. 1, (New York: Norton, 1994). 1926.

    15.   Bliss Perry. "The New Literature," The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 103, 1909, p. 5.

    16.   Bliss Perry. The American Mind, (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1912), p. 238.

    17.   John Dewey. Art as Experience, (New York: Capricorn Books, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1958), p. 334.

    18.   Kazin, Alfred. Writers at Work: the Paris Review Interviews, third series, ed. George Plimpton, (New York: Viking Compass, 1968), p. x.

    19.   Robert Pinsky. "American Poetry in American Life." The American Poetry Review, March/April 1996, pp. 19-23, p. 23.

    20.   For an exhaustive and expert rendering of Mearns' ideas and his role in the advent of creative writing (as well as a broad overview of the players in the early hours of creative writing) see D.G. Myers' The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall, 1996.)

    21.   Hughes Mearns. Creative Power, (Garden City: Doubleday, Doran. 1929), pp. 119-20.

    22.   Author not listed. "Finds Metaphors Puzzle Children" The New York Times, September 29, 1929, II, 2:3.

    23.   Quoted in James Berlin's Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900-1985, (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP 1987), p. 78.

    24.   Mearns. 1929, p. 47.

    25.    See Katherine A. Adams' A History of Professional Writing Instruction in American Colleges: Years of Acceptance, Growth, and Doubt, (Dallas: Southern Methodist UP), p. 95.

    26.   Diane Ackerman, "Campus Writes," Denver Quarterly, Summer 1985, 99, 83.

    27.   Richard Hugo. From the current (1996) flyer for the Creative Writing Program at The University of Montana.

    28.   Hughes Mearns. Creative Youth: How a School Environment Set Free the Creative Spirit, (Garden City: Doubleday, Doran, 1924), p. 36.

    29.   See Dewey's introductory chapter to Art as Experience.

    30.    Adrienne Rich: What is Found There, (New York, London: Norton, 1993), p. 85.

    31.   Tosa Motokiyu, Okura Kyojin, Ojiu Norinaga, translators. "Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada," American Poetry Review, 25.4. 23-6.

    32.   For a convincing left-field take on the authorial origins of Araki Yasusada, see Mikhail Epstein's essay "On Hyperauthorship: Hypotheses on Potential Identities of Araki Yasusada" in Sycamore Review, vol. 10, no. 1, pp 71-81. The ramifications of Epstein's thinking on the matter are rather profound: here is someone, Epstein insists, who, instead of merely creating a body of literature, has created an author to boot. This author -- whether it be Kent Johnson, Tosa Motokiyu, or, as Epstein argues, Andrei Bitov -- has managed to make one of the most persuasive indictments of poetics and cultural politics of this century. This book has dropped a bomb into our letters. In a single stroke it has completely altered how we perceive Author, Reader, and Text. What Language poetry has, rather anemically and pedantically and blandly, attempted to do for two decades, the Yasusada work has achieved in one rich stroke.

    33.   Like Mearns, a great many educators and administrators, in accepting the progressivist view of education, desired, advocated for, and eventually created a classroom devoted to egalitarian ideals. A period of only a few years passed from the publication of Mearns' Creative Power in 1929 to a progressivist adoption of the reading and writing of poetry as a subject taught in the public classroom. An article in The New York Times of 1938 which discusses just such an egalitarian attitude in one of the first instances of the progressivist adoption of poetry in the classroom by the New York school board highlights the concern that there be no "teacher's pets" among the students. The close progressivist association between an egalitarian classroom and the teacher's "responsibility to society" (as the reporter put it) were the primary foci of pedagogical concern. A Dr. Emil Altman, the chief medical examiner of the New York school system, said "I am absolutely opposed to the singling out of one child by the teacher and making a pet of him....The teacher should treat all children alike -- no one pupil should monopolize her [the teacher's] interests." (The New York Times, 1938, F 20, II, 3:2)

    34.   Mearns in fact repeatedly said, in words more or less these, the "outward expression of instinctive insight, must be summoned from the vasty deep of our mysterious selves...." Mearns, 1925, p. 28.

    35.   Mearns, 1925, p. 14.

    36.   Mearns 1925, p. 45.

    37.   Mearns 1925, p. 36.

    38.   Mearns 1925, p. 14.

    39.   Mearns 1925, p. 8.

    40.   Hughes Mearns. Creative Power, p. 256.

    41.   Joseph Moxley. "Tearing Down the Walls: Engaging the Imagination," Creative Writing in America: Theory and Pedagogy, Joseph M. Moxley (ed.), (Urbana, National Council of Teachers of English, 1989), p. 40.

    42.   See page 128 of Schlegel, Friedrich. Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms, trans. Ernst Behler and Roman Struc, (University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1968).

    43.   Ibid., p. 128.

    44.   Mearns 1925, p. 15.

    45.   Stoll, Elmer Edgar. "Literature and Life Again," PMLA, 37, 1932, pp. 296-7.

    46.   Lane Cooper. "On the Teaching of Written Composition," Education 30 (1910): 421-30. Quoted in D.G. Myers' The Elephants Teach, p. 63.

    47.   Jauss, David. "Articles of Faith." Creative Writing in America: Theory and Pedagogy, ed. Joseph M. Moxley, (Urbana, Ill: National Council of Teachers of English, 1989), p. 64.

    48.   Montenegro, David. "An Interview with Derek Walcott," Conversations with Derek Walcott, edited by William Baer, (University Press of Mississippi: Jackson, 1996), p. 149.

    49.   The result is that silence itself has become an object of art in our contemporary venues: John Cage, Milton Babbitt, Louis Zukofsky, William Stafford.

    50.   Quoted in Myers, page 119.

    51.   Diane Wakoski. "Poetry as Dialogue We All Hope Someone is Listening To," Toward a New Poetry, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980), p. 194. First published in 1974 by Salmon Press in The Contemporary Literary Scene: 1973.

    52.   Blurb on back cover of Delmore Schwartz's Selected Poems: Summer Knowledge, (New York: New Directions, 1967).

    53.   Dave Smith. Local Assays On Contemporary American Poetry, (University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1985), p. 19.

    54.   Russell Edson. "Portrait of the Writer as a Fat Man: Some Subjective Ideas or Notions on the Care and Feeding of Prose Poems" (1975). Claims for Poetry, Donald Hall, editor. (University of Michigan Press, 1982), p. 99.

    55.   Frank Bidart. In the western night : collected poems, 1965-90. (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990), p. 236. Italics are Bidart's.

    56.   David Montenegro. "An Interview with Derek Walcott," Conversations with Derek Walcott, edited by William Baer, (University Press of Mississippi: Jackson, 1996), p. 149.

    57.   Frank Bidart, 1990: "An Interview -- With Mark Halliday" (1983). "I said it to myself (I remember this very clearly): 'If what fills your attention are the great works that have been written -- Four Quartets and Ulysses and "The Tower" and Life Studies and "Howl" (yes, "Howl") and The Cantos -- nothing is left to be done. You couldn't possibly make anything as inventive or sophisticated or complex. But if you turn from them, and what you look at is your life: NOTHING is figured out; NOTHING is understood....Ulysses doesn't describe your life. It doesn't teach you how to lead your life. You don't know what love is; or hate; or birth; or death; or good; or evil. If what you look at is your life, EVERYTHING remains to be figured out, ordered; EVERYTHING remains to be done....'" [Caps and italics his] Bidart's individuated life is here a pre-emotional, pre-cognitive edenic domain.

    58.   Berry 14. See also Edwin Muir's C. E., Norton Lectures of 1955.

    59.    See On this matter of art, god, and romanticism, Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Or for a nice overview of the matter, see David Morgan's "The Enchantment of Art: Abstraction and Empathy from German Romanticism to Expressionism" in Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 57, no. 2, pp 417-341.

    60.   Noted in Myers, p. 115.

    61.   Quoted in Donald Murray's "Unlearning to Write," Creative Writing in America: Theory and Pedagogy, ed. Joseph M. Moxley, (Urbana, Ill: National Council of Teachers of English, 1989), p. 112.

    62.   Stafford, p. 16.

    63.   Mike Madonick. Telephone interview. 27 Aug. 1995.

    64.   Dewey, p. 64.

    65.   Dewey, p. 65.

    66.   Christopher Clausen. "Modern Poets and Poetry," a review of Bruce Bawer's Prophets and Professors: Essays on the Lives and Works of Modern Poets in The Sewanee Review v. 104 (Winter 1996, p. ii - iii).

    67.   Robert Frost. "The Figure a Poem Makes" in Robert Frost on Writing, by Elaine Berry, (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1973), p. 126.

    68.   Eudora Welty in interview with Linda Kuehl, compiled in The Paris Review Interviews, George Plimpton (ed.) (New York: Viking. 1976), p. 277.

    69.   Stafford, p. 3.

    70.   Edward Dorn quoted in Robert von Hallberg's American Poetry and Culture: 1945-1980, (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1985), p. 206.

    71.   Robert Creeley. Was That a Real Poem & Other Essays, edited by Donald Allen (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation 1979). Italics his, p. 104.

    72.    Creeley, p. 107.

    73.   Robert Kelly, quoted in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, edited by Paul Hoover, (New York: Norton, 1994), p. 301.

    74.   Charles Simic. Dime Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, (Hopewell, N.J.: Ecco, 1992), p. xiii.

    75.   Simic, p. 18.

    76.    David Jauss. "Articles of Faith" in Moxley 69.

    77.   Eileen Myles, quoted in Hoover, p. 553.

    78.   Smith, p. 9.

    79.   Muir, Edwin. The Estate of Poetry, (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1962)., p. 79.

    80.   Muir, p. 79.

    81.   Eliot, T.S. "The Modern Mind," Criticism: The Major Texts, ed. Walter Jackson Bate, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970), p. 541.

    82.   Muir, p. 64.

    83.   Hope, A. D. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, second edition, eds. Richard Ellman and Robert O'Clair, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1988), p. 755.

    84.   John Ashbery. "Paradoxes and Oxymorons" in The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, second edition, edited by Richard Ellman and Robert O'Clair, pp. 1269-70.

    85.   Though it is outside the immediate scope of this paper, it is but a short logical and historical step to conclude that the poetics of many of the Language poets represent a further removal of agency from the poem, wherein agency is finally placed in its reader. On this matter, see Linda Reinfeld's Language Poetry: Writing as Rescue (1992), Marjorie Perloff's Radical Artifice (1991), Charles Bernstein's Artifice of Absorption (1987), and A Poetics (1992) -- these among many others. Reinfeld on this matter: "We as readers are in relation to the text as Keats's knight is to 'la belle dame' or as the poet is to the muse...." (p. 71).

    86.   Eliot, T.S. "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Criticism: The Major Texts., ed. Walter Jackson Bate, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1970), p. 529.

    87.   Dewey, p. 74.

    88.   Ransom, John Crowe. The World's Body, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U P, 1968), p. 63.

    89.   Jauss, p. 65.

    90.   Schwartz, Delmore. "The Isolation of Modern Poetry," quoted in Ellman and O'Clair, p. 874.

    91.    Robert Lowell. Robert Lowell: A Collection of Critical Essays, (Prentice Hall, 1968), p. 21.

    92.    Creeley, p. 104.

    93.    Bidart 1990, p. 223.

    94.   Lowell, 1968, p. 31.

    95.   Michael Harper in interview with James Randall, 1981, American Poetry Observed, p. 98.

    96.   Charles Bernstein. A Poetics, (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992), p. 2.

    97.   James Wright in interview with Bruce Henrickson, collected in American Poetry Observed, edited by Joe David Bellamy, (Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois Press, 1984), p. 302.

    98.    Lowell. 1968, p. 19 .

    99.   Adrienne Rich. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, (New York: Norton. 1979), p. 27.

    100.   Edson, p. 103 .

    101.   Brooke Horvath. "The Prose Poem and The Secret Life of Poetry": APR, v. 21, pp 11-14.

    102.    Horvath, p. 13.

    103.   Robert Kroetsch. Excerpts from the Real World, (Victoria, BC: Oolichan, 1986).

    104.   Frank Bidart. "Golden State" in The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, second edition, edited by Richard Ellman and Robert O'Clair (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988), pp. 1508-15, p.1510.

    105.   Berry, p. 22.

    106.    See NYT 1940, Ag 4, 21:1 Max Eastman letter to editor in re his book, The Literary Mind.