So let's cut to the chase here, Hank - what's it all about, this rambular delving amongst the Chicago School tie?

As my better Ange is choristering over there today, in the same key with my squawks - it has to do with a search for a descriptive language for what poets are doing (today). A context.

Poetry reviewers do this naturally - improvising, more or less. But how to picture the wide-screen hysterical landscape?

Rather than put the poem in a bottle of battling-balancing textual forces (New Critics), or read poetry in terms of some other (non-poetic) level of critical discourse (everybody since 1975, more or less), the Chicago critics developed a formalist criticism : the formal terms of which, however, open out toward the wider, deeper connotations and consequences of art.

The history of American poetry/poetics for the last century takes an hourglass shape. The early moderns blew the top off the bottle of style, diction, form, et al. Eliot, Pound, Cummings, Stein, etc. etc.

Toward mid-century, the bottle narrowed into the methodological funnel of the New Criticism : poem as self-contained object.

Just at mid-point, the glass began to bulge out again : Projectivists, Beats, Life Studies, translations, free verse, & so on toward the open-ended flarfy fin-de-siecle.

When Elder Olson, RS Crane & the other Chicago critics began (toward mid-century) to differentiate themselves from the New Criticism, I think they discovered a useful set of "paradigms" (my very partial unofficial paraphrase/list) :

1. Critical pluralism allows many approaches & methods equal validity : walk in fear of over-extended critical universals (misapplied abstractions & categories of judgement).
2. Poetry is not described or defined simply by an analysis of diction or verbal texture. The words are not the form, but the material : the wood which takes the form of the toy ship.
3. Said form includes the cognitive and emotional resonances felt by the poem's readers & audience (ie. the "action" of the poem is not merely autotelic, self-contained, self-reflexive. It has measurable aesthetic consequences & contexts).
4. It's possible to distinguish aesthetic methods and effects, in the process of responding to & interpreting a poem's meaning(s), purpose, motive, impact, etc. & this seems like a sensible place to begin, since a poem is, first of all, a work of art.

2 essays which focus most directly on these issues are by Elder Olson (in the volume Critics and Criticism, ed. by RS Crane):
"An Outline of Poetic Theory"
"William Empson, Contemporary Criticism, and Poetic Diction"

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