Poetry, argues James Longenbach, is its own best enemy. Examining a wide array of poets, from Callimachus to Louise Glück, he explains that the resistance to poetry is, quite specifically, the wonder of poetry. Poems do convey knowledge, he suggests, but they do so in forms that continually work against their being facile vehicles for its efficient transmission. In fact, this self-resistance is the source of the reader's pleasure: we read poetry not to escape difficulty but to embrace it.
Longenbach makes his case through a sustained engagement with the language of poems. Each chapter brings a fresh perspective to a crucial aspect of poetry (line, syntax, figurative language, voice, disjunction), showing that the power of language depends less on meaning than on the way in which it means—on the temporal process we negotiate in the act of reading or writing a poem. A graceful and skilled study, The Resistance to Poetry comes at a crucial time—a time when many people are trying to mold and market poetry into something it is not.
"James Longenbach's exhilarating and subtle book makes the eloquent case for the necessary unpopularity of poetry."—Adam Philips, Guardian
"Longenbach's spare method is that of a poet, his careful exposition like that of a poem. . . . A beautiful little book."—Library Journal
"Throughout nine small and expertly constellated essays, Longenbach demonstrates that poems are a form of thinking: a resistance to the clear-cut, uncomplicated thought that tries to pin them down as statements. . . . A compact and exponentially provocative book."—Brian Phillips, Poetry
It is axiomatic that poetry resists our attempts to make sense of it. Here, Longenbach argues that the language of poetry resists itself even more than its readers and by doing so conquers our resistance to its obscurity. He argues further that the accessibility of much contemporary poetry has replaced "inwardness"-the thing that makes it poetry. Both a poet himself (e.g., Fleet River) and the author of major studies on poetry (e.g., Modern Poetry After Modernism), Longenbach offers an argument that runs counter to Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks's Understanding Poetry (1950). We read poetry not to understand, he counters, but "to experience the sensation, the sound, of words leaping just beyond our capacity to know them certainly." Discovering in a poem something strange in what we thought familiar, we draw fresh wonder at the alien beauty of our own becoming in the world. Longenbach's spare method is that of the poet, his careful exposition like that of a poem. Both academic and public libraries should make room for this beautiful little book.-Vince Brewton, Univ. of North Alabama Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.