Lyric Powers
by Robert von Hallberg
University of Chicago Press, 2008
Cloth: 978-0-226-86500-3 | Electronic: 978-0-226-86502-7
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

The authority of poetry varies from one period to another, from one culture to another. For Robert von Hallberg, the authority of lyric poetry has three sources: religious affirmation, the social institutions of those who speak the idioms from which particular poems are made, and the extraordinary cognition generated by the formal and musical resources of poems. Lyric Powers helps students, poets, and general readers to recognize the pleasures and understand the ambitions of lyric poetry.
To explain why a reader might prefer one kind of poem to another, von Hallberg analyzes—beyond the political and intellectual significance of poems—the musicality of both lyric poetry and popular song, including that of Tin Pan Alley and doo-wop. He shows that poets have distinctive intellectual resources—not just rhetorical resources—for examining their subjects, and that the power of poetic language to generalize, not particularize, is what justly deserves a critic’s attention.
The first book in more than a decade from this respected critic, Lyric Powers will be celebrated as a genuine event by readers of poetry and literary criticism.  

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Robert von Hallberg is the Helen A. Regenstein Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago.
 

REVIEWS

"Von Hallberg's style is rich and voluble. . . . This is a book for literati equipped to tackle a series of interrelated, dense, meditative, erudite essays that span an entire genre."
— Choice

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

- Robert Von Hallberg
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.003.0001
[poem, lyric poetry, orphic, rhetorical, poetry]
This introductory chapter sets out the book's purpose, which is to clarify issues that arise when one prefers one kind of poem over another. Various concepts of poetry circulate now in U.S. literary culture, and among them are some family resemblances. The subsequent chapters focus on two rival families: one the orphic, and the other the rhetorical approach to the art. The discussion then turns to the interpretation of poetry. (pages 1 - 8)
This chapter is available at:
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- Robert Von Hallberg
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.003.0002
[poetic authority, lyric poetry, affirmative function, poetic value, autonomy]
This chapter identifies several sources of poetic authority—some sonic, some syntactic, and others semantic. It argues that the most distinctive authority of lyric rests still on its affirmative function, whereas the intellectual disciplines derive from doubt. Insofar as the achievements of the art are measured by the criteria of skeptical intellectual disciplines, lyric inevitably seems slight. Autonomy is poetry's special aspiration: an independence from politics, philosophy, history, or theology, so that poetic value does not depend upon political conformity, logical argumentation, historical accuracy, or religious faith. If poetry has distinctive value, it must have special features that other discourses either lack or cannot exploit fully. (pages 9 - 39)
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    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert Von Hallberg
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.003.0003
[lyric poetry, affirmation, poets, encouragement, praise, poetic language]
This chapter considers the meaning of affirmation from poetry. It argues that the objective of poetry is encouragement. Poets cannot praise constantly, granted, and yet the deepest power of poetry comes from praise, not criticism. Poetic affirmation begins in the richness and physicality of language. Sounds accompany written signs, but the acoustic features of poetic language often become signs themselves. (pages 40 - 69)
This chapter is available at:
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- Robert Von Hallberg
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.003.0004
[lyric poetry, poetic language, orphic poetics, civil order, secular social relations, civility, authority]
The dominant tradition in lyric poetry presumes the distinctness of poetic language—its diction and syntax—from the ordinary idioms of contemporary speech or prose. This sense of poetic language as not bound to social usage suits the orphic poetics examined in Chapters 1 and 2. However, many ambitious poems are indifferent to orphic traditions; they instead derive authority from a civil order. They signal the roots of their authority by drawing on the resources of recognizable speech. This chapter discusses various poems that exemplify a counterpole to the orphic mode. It argues that, whereas vatic writing derives authority ultimately from a religious order of experience or belief, the speech-based poetry under discussion here instead rests on a rich understanding of secular social relations. (pages 70 - 104)
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- Robert Von Hallberg
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.003.0005
[poems, poetry, knowledge, rhetoric, prose, William Bronk, John Koethe, Jorie Graham, Rae Armantrout, Michael Palmer]
This chapter addresses the question of whether poetry is a branch of knowledge, or just of rhetoric. Poets like William Bronk, John Koethe, Jorie Graham, Rae Armantrout, and Michael Palmer hold their poems especially close to the rational mode of expression that commonly counts as prose; the chapter focuses on that particular range of the art of poetry. (pages 105 - 142)
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- Robert Von Hallberg
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.003.0006
[poetry, musicality, literary conventions, social conventions, expression]
The musicality of poetry is a topic that invites abstraction: a metaphorical understanding of one art in terms of another leads one away from particular poems and songs. This chapter focuses not only on the meaning of musicality in poetry, but also on the practical resources of musicality for poets and readers. It proposes two models of musicality: the first derives from the sounds of conventional discourse—particularly literary and social conventions; the second means to express the body itself. Musicality, that is, pushes to one side the categories of orphic and civil. Or rather the range of expression designated by those categories is altogether encompassed by the varieties of musicality retrievable in poetry. (pages 143 - 185)
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- Robert Von Hallberg
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.003.0007
[poetry, musicality, lyric power, poetic language, truth, generality, universality, impersonality, disinterestedness]
The consequence of attending to musicality as a source of lyric power is that one must then also confront the issue of universality, since poetry's musicality and its figures resist the particularizing reference of ordinary discourse. Although for two centuries poetic theory has stressed the particularizing power of poetic language, a wide range of poets have sought universality, or generality, or impersonality, or disinterestedness. This chapter argues that poetic language, regardless of whether it is written in an orphic or a civil mode, aspires to general truth. The value of generality is in a poem's capacity less to appropriate the subject position of others than to render indefinite subject positions, those not fully realized or not sustained by historical circumstances. The generality of poetic language derives from an intellectual aspiration to know more than one does, more even than one can, in particular. The chapter extends the analysis of musicality and also encompasses translation. (pages 186 - 226)
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- Robert Von Hallberg
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226865027.003.0008
[poems, lyric poetry, musicality, music, thinking, feeling]
This chapter presents some concluding thoughts from the author. It argues that lyric poetry is by definition musical, and that its sounds evoke a sense of justness. They summon into being patterns of thought and feeling that are unsatisfactorily accounted for in disciplined prose—hence “a sense of.” This art often reveals forms of thinking and feeling of which one had little idea, and of which one eventually achieves only an indefinite idea. One does not even hear at once all the music of poetry, and only a portion of what one hears can one identify. Critics search out the orders and name them arcanely, or characterize them by approximation. Named or not, musical elements are combinatory: echoes link words and phrases in ways that do not depend on concepts or propositions. (pages 227 - 238)
This chapter is available at:
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Notes

Index