Articulates a more capacious model for thinking about modernism, past, present, and future
Modernism the Morning After is a superb, lively, engaging series of essays and talks, dating from 1995 to 2016, by the eminent scholar, critic, and poet Bob Perelman. Throughout his career, Perelman has focused on the persistence of modernist ambition in poetry, with all of its admirable articulations and tragicomic short-circuits. Poetry, it turns out, is not simply “news that stays news,” as Ezra Pound postulated. Instead, as Perelman demonstrates, poetry often gropes toward whatever news can be found in the broader contexts of public speech—the cultural commons, the almost-real or much-too-real language of people and our hyperactive media.
Working in a variety of modes from the poetic to the dramatic to the conversational, and ranging across an expansive historical register from Dickinson, Whitman, and Dunbar in the nineteenth century to Kenneth Goldsmith and Stephen Colbert in the twenty-first, Perelman’s readings are unfailingly illuminating and, in many cases, his witty expositions take us strikingly close to the original intent of the text concerned.
Perelman also places intermittent, yet artful, pressure on some basic questions about the very nature of poetry. What does the transcription of poems tell us about them? How do hoaxes like the Ern Malley affair compel us to reconsider fundamental assumptions about what constitutes “authentic” poetry? How does the bathetic register relate to tones and idiom in recent poetic production? In Modernism the Morning After, Perelman writes as a poet, teacher, and critic, addressing a broad audience of readers and writers without choosing between them, inviting all to consider along with him modernism’s future through a dynamic consideration of its past.