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This article is taken from PN Review 190, Volume 36 Number 2, November - December 2009.

Transatlantic Disconnections, or, The Poetry of the Hypotenuse Stephen Burt

The PN Review lecture given at the University of Glasgow, March 2009

I have been asked to talk about the differences between British and American poetry. I will do so not in one way but in three: first, in the mode of literary history, with examples and evidence; second, by telling an intuitive story about how it feels to be an American poet and how an American critic (and poet) suspects that it feels to be a British poet, a story no footnotes could ever confirm or deny; third, by reading some contemporary British poems. These ways of describing transatlantic differences will seem, if my intuitions are right, decreasingly useful as explanations of literature, and literary history, in general, but increasingly useful as tools for reading individual poets and poems: they are, if those intuitions have any basis, ways to make explicit what American readers might learn from reading Scottish and English and Welsh poems (in English) now. (The hypotenuse comes in at part two.) When I reach part three I will, perhaps, say things plausible only to an outsider, to someone who reads British, and Irish, poetry with an ear, and a sense of culture, developed mostly outside those isles. Taken together my descriptions should suggest what Americans can hear in British poetry now, but do not hear, because we do not read it very much; what British poetry as such can offer the English-speaking world, in terms of distinctive aesthetic qualities, now; and (if you ...


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