University of Sussex
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Credible practices: Whitman's candour, Pound's sincerity, Olson's literalism

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:13 authored by Michael Robert Kindellan
This dissertation focuses on Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound and Charles Olson. It examines some individual but related theories of expression in their writings about poetics as well as their strategies of realising such ideals in their major poems. Chapter one explores the role of candour in “Song of Myself”, first by tracing a brief history of its use, and then by showing that latent in its definition is a denotational contradiction germane to Whitman’s own practice. On the one hand, poetic candour means forthright and frank expression well-suited to Whitman’s formal experimentation, while on the other, it requires a suspension of judgment (a neutrality) adequate to the radical democratic structures he seems to everywhere promote. Chapter two explores the meaning and function of sincerity in some of Pound’s early theory and verse; it argues that sincerity at first meant a kind of expertise or skill in rhythmic composition but later came to denote a rhetorical insistence on precise definition. I track some manifestations of this phenomenon in Rock-Drill. In chapter three I explore literalism as a sustained refusal of certain forms of generalisation. Following a clarification of what is meant by literalism as it applies to Olson’s verse, I examine some smaller (i.e., minimal) poems from The Maximus Poems and argue that in seeking to avoid the abstractions of both conventional metrics as well as rational discourse, Olson risks constructing a subject at the centre of his poem that might successfully disable the lyric ego at the expense of installing more controlling kinds of authority.


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