A Spectrum of Aesthetics, Part II: Arda Collins

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Off I 75 in North Georgia

The following passage continues where I left off in the first post about contemporary poetry.

Contemporary poetry, and contemporary art in general, reveals the Zeitgeist of the 21st century–we seem to live in a moment in which we are reevaluating the myths that motivate us; as a culture we question the roles language, poetry (or art), science, and religion play in our lives. This reconsideration of reality has produced eclectic collections from both younger and older poets.

Each of the books we discussed this semester in our contemporary poetry course, in varying degrees, serves as a barometer of our country’s mood as perceived through the feelings and thoughts of the individual poet, although the psychological and emotional landscapes differ in their representation.

I will identify some essential questions that underlie or motivate three of the individual projects, examining poems from It Is Daylight by Arda Collins, Matthew Dickman’s All-American Poem, and Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife. My hope is that these sample poems will serve as emblems for the poets’ overarching motivations to write, as well as illustrate the wide spectrum of aesthetics in contemporary American poetry.

Among the books we studied, Arda Colin’s It Is Daylight represents the collection least inclined toward the Romantic ideal of union with nature. Luis Glück, who chose Collins’s collection for the Yale Younger Poet’s Prize, characterizes Collin’s poetry as “savage, desolate, brutally ironic” (vii).

Glück later states that “[a]t the heart of the poems is shame, which results not from something the poet has done, but rather from being” (vii). Even though there is an overt depiction of shame in Collins‘ collection, I would say the heart of her poems also contains a desire to understand what being alive means to a neurotic speaker (whom we shouldn’t confuse with the author). Continue reading

A Spectrum of Aesthetics, Part I

I’ve decided to post part of the final paper I wrote for a contemporary American poetry course. There’s a huge debate these days about academic writers versus those who write independently, but in my mind the rift is more about aesthetics and publishing trends. It’s also about, who owes us a favor, who wants to curry favor with us, how eager we are to have our work published, and the circles we travel in.

Unfortunately, the best art is not always discovered within the artist’s lifetime, as we all know.

To get an idea about what some critics are saying, read Anis Shivani’s review of The Best American Poetry, 2010. Be prepared for some harsh statements! Also relevant is The New Math of Poetry by David Alpaugh. Thanks to poet, novelist, journalist and all around brilliant writer Collin Kelley for posting these links and keeping me abreast of the controversy.


Like the polarization of values found within the U.S. political system, the poetry world also disagrees about aesthetics: the New York School sometimes conflicts with Southern narrative poets; New Formalists  shake their heads at those who cling to Walt Whitman and the rule of free verse.

With the growth of the Internet and the ability to write and share poems by merely lifting the lid of a laptop, poetry, the people’s art, reflects the diversity of those who write it. Academic poets compete with coffee house, spoken-word artists for readership and attention.

Nature poets espouse a return to the woods for inspiration, writing haiku and renga in the manner of Basho; other poets have embraced a postmodern ethos that reflects a strong sense of irony. The latter express an art form that some identify with an outgrowth of a scientific worldview that rejects religion as an answer to life’s mysteries.

Some literary theorists, philosophers, and even poets would go as far as to argue the irrelevance of the question “where did we come from and where will we go when we die?” But as Edward Hirsch explains in How to Read a Poem, even poetry of despair is a calling out to humanity, and signals a kind of hope. When he claims that “[d]espair is a turning away from human commerce, it is silence” (157),  he defends the act of writing about despair as a signal of wanting to connect with the other.


View of the Hudson (photo taken by my husband)

View of the Hudson (photo taken by my husband)