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This article is taken from PN Review 48, Volume 12 Number 4, March - April 1986.

Why Most Contemporary Poetry is So Bad Anthony Easthope


No good poetry is ever written in a manner twenty years old . . . As to Twentieth century poetry . . . it will be harder and saner . . . free from emotional slither.
- Ezra Pound, December 1911


This essay is going to have to move fast. It will argue that in the West the twentieth century has witnessed a crisis over 'the individual' (or subject as I will prefer to say); that the 'new orthodoxy' of post-structuralism or deconstruction or whatever one chooses to call the 'new' criticism is necessary and correct in denying the sentimental, liberal-humanist notion of 'the self' and the Romantic conception of 'individual imaginative experience'; that an acknowledgement of the end of liberalism informs Modernist poetry but that this has been ignored by poetry in England since the 1930s with the consequence that most poetry now written here is dead on the branch; and that the sooner traditional criticism is deposed and post-structuralism becomes a hegemony (which it certainly is not yet), the better for contemporary poetry. I will try to find space to illustrate the argument by discriminating between two poems (or texts as I prefer to say).
 
The central issue is the subject. Is the 'individual' in fact undivided (Latin: individuus), autonomous, transcendent, a source and origin of meaning? Or is the subject constructed as an effect in which the ego appears to itself as a free agent (and ...


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