The latest offering in the Poets on Poetry series from acclaimed poet, critic, and National Endowment for the Arts' chairman Dana Gioia, Barrier of a Common Language collects essays on British poets and poetry spanning the past two decades.
Gioia ignited a national debate on the relevance of poetry in 1991 when he published an essay in the Atlantic titled "Can Poetry Matter?" The essay was expanded into a book of the same name and went on to become one of the best-selling books of contemporary poetry criticism in the 1990s.
In Barrier of a Common Language Gioia addresses the current disconnect between British and American poetry, the result of America's growing postwar self-sufficiency in its intellectual concerns and concomitant patronizing attitude toward Britain. Writes Gioia, "Today . . . most American readers are not only unfamiliar with current British poetry, but modestly proud of the fact. They do not dissemble, but urbanely flourish their ignorance as an indisputable sign of discrimination."
Whether British poetry ever regains the importance in Anglo-American literary traditions it had fifty years ago, Gioia believes, will depend on the quality of service it receives from critics, poets, editors, and anthologists who alone can make it accurately heard and understood.
Poet, critic, and acclaimed author of Can Poetry Matter? Dana Gioia is one of America's leading contemporary men of letters. Winner of the American Book Award, Gioia is internationally recognized for his role in reviving rhyme, meter, and narrative in contemporary poetry.
In Beowulf and the Grendel-kin: Politics and Poetry in Eleventh-Century England, Helen Damico presents the first concentrated discussion of the initiatory two-thirds of Beowulf’s 3,182 lines in the context of the sociopolitically turbulent years that composed the first half of the eleventh century in Anglo-Danish England.
Damico offers incisive arguments that major historical events and personages pertaining to the reign of Cnut and those of his sons recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Encomium Emmae Reginae, and major continental and Scandinavian historical texts, hold striking parallels with events and personages found in at least eight vexing narrative units, as recorded by Scribe A in BL, Cotton Vitellius A.xv, that make up the poem’s quasi sixth-century narrative concerning the fall of the legendary Scyldings.
Given the poet’s compositional skill—widely relational and eclectic at its core—and his affinity with the practicing skalds, these strings of parallelisms could scarcely have been coincidental. Rather, Damico argues that examined within the context of other eleventh-century texts that either bemoaned or darkly satirized or obversely celebrated the rise of the Anglo-Danish realm, the Beowulfian units may bring forth a deeper understanding of the complexity of the poet’s compositional process.
Damico illustrates the poet’s use of the tools of his trade—compression, substitution, skillful encoding of character—to reinterpret and transform grave sociopolitical “facts” of history, to produce what may be characterized as a type of historical allegory, whereby two parallel narratives, one literal and another veiled are simultaneously operative.
Beowulf and the Grendel-Kin lays out the story of Beowulf, not as a monster narrative nor a folklorish nor solely a legendary tale, but rather as a poem of its time, a historical allegory coping with and reconfiguring sociopolitical events of the first half of eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon England.
Beside the Bard argues that Scottish poetry in the age of Burns reclaims not a single past, dominated and overwritten by the unitary national language of an elite ruling class, but a past that conceptualizes the Scottish nation in terms of local self-identification, linguistic multiplicity, cultural and religious difference, and transnational political and cultural affiliations. This fluid conception of the nation may accommodate a post-Union British self-identification, but it also recognizes the instrumental and historically contingent nature of “Britishness.” Whether male or female, loyalist or radical, literati or autodidacts, poets such as Alexander Wilson, Carolina Olyphant, Robert Tannahill, and John Lapraik, among others, adamantly refuse to imagine a single nation, British or otherwise, instead preferring an open, polyvocal field, on which they can stage new national and personal formations and fight new revolutions. In this sense, “Scotland” is a revolutionary category, always subject to creative destruction and reformation.
Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.
Breakfast Served Any Time All Day collects forty years of writings on poetry in one essential volume by master of American letters Donald Hall.
Praise for Breakfast Served:
". . . the essays in this book are engaging, passionate, strange, and unified. Hall has been around a long time, and you can trace the concerns of a generation through the mind of this one man: questions about the diminished scope of poetry, the diminished ambitions of poets, how a poem 'means,' etc. . . . . Criticism . . . is an exercise in sanity, of which these essays are a splendid and useful example."
"A luminous and essential volume about the sensuality of language, its pleasures and sounds."
"It is in this merger of a poet's biography and a poem's body that Hall does his best work. . . . [Breakfast Served Any Time All Day] has an undeniably infectious quality to it. Finishing it, you cannot help but want to return to your bookshelf, and read-again or for the first time-the great forgotten poems of our past."
-Nathan Greenwood Thompson, Rain Taxi