cover of book

American Poetry as Transactional Art
by Stephen Fredman
University of Alabama Press, 2020
eISBN: 978-0-8173-9294-9 | Paper: 978-0-8173-5981-2
Library of Congress Classification PS323.5.F685 2020
Dewey Decimal Classification 811.509

Explores the ways American poetry engages with visual art, music, fiction, spirituality, and performance art

Many people think of poetry as a hermetic art, as though poets wrote only about themselves or as if the subject of poetry were finally only poetry—its forms and traditions. Indeed much of what constitutes poetry in the lyric tradition depends on a stringently controlled point of view and aims for a timeless, intransitive utterance. Stephen Fredman’s study proposes a different perspective.

American Poetry as Transactional Art explores a salient quality of much avant-garde American poetry that has so far lacked sustained treatment: namely, its role as a transactional art. Specifically Fredman describes this role as the ways it consistently engages in conversation, talk, correspondence, going beyond the scope of its own subjects and forms—its existential interactions with the outside world. Poetry operating in this vein draws together images, ideas, practices, rituals, and verbal techniques from around the globe, and across time—not to equate them, but to establish dialogue, to invite as many guests as possible to the World Party, which Robert Duncan has called the “symposium of the whole.”

Fredman invites new readers into contemporary poetry by providing lucid and nuanced analyses of specific poems and specific interchanges between poets and their surroundings. He explores such topics as poetry’s transactions with spiritual traditions and practices over the course of the twentieth century; the impact of World War II on the poetry of Charles Olson and George Oppen; exchanges between poetry and other art forms including sculpture, performance art, and ambient music; the battle between poetry and prose in the early work of Paul Auster and in Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. The epilogue looks briefly at another crucial transactional occasion: teaching American poetry in the classroom in a way that demonstrates that it is at the center of the arts and at the heart of American culture.
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