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The Strength of Poetry: Oxford Lectures Paperback – September 30, 2002
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“A series of passionately intelligent conversations between critic and poet...The Strength of Poetry exemplifies the inherent generosity of intelligence.” ―Edward Mendelson, The New York Times Book Review
“Bracing and sympathetic readings of a modern canon” ―New York Times Book Review
About the Author
The celebrated British poet and literary critic James Fenton has been a foreign correspondent and a theater critic and has written about the history of gardens.
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Paperback : 280 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0374528489
- ISBN-13 : 978-0374528485
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.64 x 8.5 inches
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 30, 2002)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,000,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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I was continually moved by the strength of engagement that Fenton brings to these essays - criminal that they should have been spoken words to a small elite. The warmth and humour of the man are in there, the intellectual challenge made easier by means of direct, pliable prose - a real pleasure extant in the range and depth encompassed. I longed to be able to ask questions at the end, but nevertheless felt I'd learned far more than I expected.
A favourite for me is the essay on D H Lawrence's championship of Walt Whitman (and the initially anguished examination Lawrence gave himself on the grounds of Whitman's homosexuality). Lawrence did not turn to Whitman for his elevated thoughts. Whitman, he wrote, "was the first heroic seer to seize the soul by the scruff of her neck and plant her down among the potsherds, "Stay there, stay in the flesh. Stay in the limbs and lips and in the belly. Stay in the breast and womb. Stay there, O soul, where you belong." For Lawrence thought is rooted in feeling, "feeling is a function of the body, desire is a mystery, and all desires are holy." (or perhaps unholy?). But for all that Lawrence felt instinctively that the essential function of art is moral. "Not aesthetic, not decorative, not pastime and recreation." Fenton is one of few commentators to give Frieda Lawrence a part to play in their rambles across continents, one dismissed by Auden as unimportant. As Fenton says, "...contemporaries can be just as wrong as posterity, on occasion. The struggle with Frieda, from Lawrence's point of view was of the essence." Especially after she came up behind him and hit him over the head with an earthenware plate. They seemed to feel free to hate each other for once in a while, to despise and mock each other - but it was, apparently, all part of becoming connected. What Lawrence hated in others was narcissistic self-enclosure, particularly of the kind he saw in Bloomsbury and parts of Cambridge. Odd then that he should turn to Whitman in the development of his oeuvre? Not really, since it was Whitman's gift to espouse vers libre - not that of the 1880s, a shabby imitation, but that of the freedom claimed by Whitman in the 1850s: "the freedom of the soul's encounters on the Open Road. Free verse, he says: `is or should be direct utterance from the instant, whole man.'"
I do so love the extravagant posturing and the agonies of Lawrence and Freida (the instant, whole man! - yes, on the shelf next to the coffee, please). But there is much more to this delightful book. If you are at all interested in poetry, it's history and its development, as well as it's practice and progression in the here and now, you should read James Fenton's wholly exemplary book.