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This book is concerned with the complex and uncertain nature of twentieth century poetry and poetics. Dealing with such major figures as Lorca, Rilke, Pound, Stevens, Moore, Niedecker, Duncan and Oppen and of more contemporary poets and poetry in the modernist and post-modernist lineage of Pound and Williams, the essays explore the work of these poets to see how it embodies our contemporary skepticism concerning language, representation and reality, showing that even as the poems depict or create values, they appear to be haunted by the possibility of inadequacy. Thus one of the book’s major themes concerns how contemporary poets embody uncertainties, yet manage, in virtually the same breath, in the same line or stanza, to articulate both affirmation and doubt. Questions of form and meaning are discussed in the essays covering individual poets and their poems as well as in those which deal with contemporary avant garde movements, Jewish and post-Holocaust poetry, poetics and considerations of the act of writing itself. As well, these essays try to say something about the literary environment of contemporary poetry. Poetry today is, for the most part, inflected by the American experimentalism of Walt Whitman, the “make it new” of innovators such as Pound and Williams and by infusions of European dada and surrealism into the poetic psyche. More recently, in avant-garde poetic movements, as in contemporary criticism, structuralist and post-structuralist thought have had much influence. These availabilities, this book hopes to show, have produced an unparalleled richness of poetry and thought about poetry, offering not only a reflection of our uneasiness but also an active shaping force which, through the power of poetic language, provides the hope of meaning for both history and experience.
‘For decades, Michael Heller has been making in his poetry one of the most careful explorations we have of the lyric imagination. For nearly as long, readers have relied on Conviction’s Net of Branches as their gateway into understanding the Objectivists. In 2000, Heller offered us Living Root, one of the great spiritual autobiographies in the American poetic idiom. What a pleasure to have these essays, then, collected in Uncertain Poetries, as an affirmation of the depth and seriousness of Heller’s engagement with lyric properties, and as a testament to the vibrancy of his thought and to the admirable intensity of his questioning mind.’ —Peter O’Leary, author of Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan & the Poetry of Illness
‘Michael Heller is not only one of our finest poets; he is also one of our best thinkers and prose writers, someone for whom thought is aesthetic. In this volume poetry is the object of exquisite meditations that show it to be alive, delicate – and yet the most powerful force in human affairs. Written under the aegis of an Uncertainty that embodies the condition of modernity, Heller’s prose is at once supremely intelligent and knowing, deeply philosophical and ruminative, and utterly graceful. What other poet or scholar could be more illuminating? Heller’s contribution to our understanding of the poetic act, language, more broadly civilization, is truly extraordinary. It will remain with us for a very long time.’ —Burt Kimmelman
‘At last we have a generous representative gathering of Michael Heller’s essays on poetics. One of our boldest, most thoughtful, and least tendentious of poets, Heller here demonstrates that the same is true for him as reader and critic. Deeply schooled in the contradictory (or use his term, “uncertain”) traditions of international modernism, Heller has always had a most discerning eye – and at times, a scathing voice – for the true and the meretricious in contemporary poetry. We need Heller’s insights now more than ever. This is a book of the utmost importance.’ —Norman Finkelstein