Harold Kaplan, Michael Eskin : poetry & humanism

Have been reading terrific book by Harold Kaplan, Poetry, politics and culture : argument in the work of Eliot, Pound, Stevens and Williams (Transaction, 2006). Despite the horrendous proofreading of this text (full of typos), I couldn't put it down.

When you think everything (& too much more) has been said about the "great Moderns", along comes a prof. emeritus (born in 1916) with a new reading. Kaplan creates a context for the differing worldviews, personalities, aims & styles of these four, and in the process re-establishes the threads connecting poetry with culture at large. The seriousness with which these poets themselves understood poetry as the expression of a culture's sensibility & self-consciousness - its inner "rage for order" - also reverberated in their differing political worldviews. Kaplan contrasts Stevens & Williams, as poets who allied the imagination with the American project of "democratic humanism", with Eliot & Pound, whose sense of 20th-cent. world crisis led them in authoritarian directions.

This in itself is obviously nothing new : but on the basis of this fundamental difference Kaplan provides a wonderful discernment & insight into the poets & their poetry in detail.

I think there is something valuable in the synthetic perspective offered by Kaplan, as in that of another scholar Kaplan points toward (in an appendix), & with whom he shares affinities : Michael Eskin (whose book on Mandelstam/Celan/Grunbein/Brodsky - Poetic Affairs - I just finished reading). There is something valid & useful in Kaplan's Stevensian emphasis on the centrality of the human imagination, in connection with Eskin's (drawing on the philosophy of E. Levinas as well as Mandelstam) focus on the inevitably dialogic, personal & human substance of poetry. I have a hunch there is some solid ground here for (re-)shaping a contemporary sense of the poet's & poetry's place in the world. Moreover, Kaplan's searchings into the status of imagination and personhood seem directly relevant to all the current polemics about experiment & style, making & speaking, artifice & authenticity, & what (if anything) distinguishes poetry from other arts & activities...

Wrote a poem a few years ago when I was thinking about this basic contrast (say, Eliot/Stevens). Called "Fragment from Purgatory" (published in Dove Street)

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