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This article is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

Twentieth-Century Changae in the Idea of Poetry, And of the Poet, And of the Human Being Laura (Riding) Jackson


My poetic work has been favored with some extremely high praise, and has also been subjected to some extremely disrespectful treatment. Between the two extremes, there has been no settling of critical judgement into a convenient formula of non-committal description of it. As a poet, I have proved unaccommodating to the prevailing contemporary modes of critical identification, and have fallen more and more outside the field of common critical mention. The difficulty my poems have made for criticism is that twentieth-century literary thinking on poetry was rejuvenated by being transmuted into something requiring not only new definings of poetry, but even of literature. The criticism of poetry of our time has followed the course of what seemed at first, in what was new in the poetry of the new century, an advancement in the expressive powers of poetry, but proved before long to be a radical change in poetry's relationship to literature from that in which the poetries of other times have stood.

Although my poetic work was recognized as distinctively, indeed extraordinarily, 'advanced' in its expressive accomplishments, it proved to be differently 'modern'. It did not advance itself, as did the work of other poets, to the point of being a poetry that was full of self-contradictions as poetry and, yet, still called itself, challenging tradition, poetry. What I did in poetry did not contradict the literary premise on which the identity of poetry rests. 'The poetry of our time,' runs the twentieth-century ...

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