In Others' Words: Poetry, Quotation, and the Great Depression

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In Others' Words: Poetry, Quotation, and the Great Depression

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Title: In Others' Words: Poetry, Quotation, and the Great Depression
Author: Harter, Odile
Citation: Harter, Odile. 2012. In Others' Words: Poetry, Quotation, and the Great Depression. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Quotation, the placing of found material into a new context, always involves transforming that material. The modernist poets who first incorporated extensive quotation into poetry prioritized hierarchy, aesthetic excellence, and formal license, values that encourage us to measure a poet’s genius by the audacity with which he transforms found material. This conception of poetry as masterful arrangement proved inadequate, however, in the wake of the Great Depression, as Marxist politics, a trend toward collectivism, and a vogue for documentary forms inflected the words of others with ethical status and social significance. In Others’ Words traces the effect of the Great Depression on the quoting practice of six poets, each of whom seeks to quote in a way that sufficiently honors other voices and other experiences, selecting material for its authenticity of experience as much as for its linguistic aptness. Ezra Pound imagines a “common sepulcher” of evidence and alternates between lyric and documentary expressions of the same ideas to represent the growing conflict between his early theorizations of his quotation method and his changing sense of his quotations’ purpose. In Marianne Moore’s poems, collective, error-prone speech and a plural speaking voice denote a transition, in her career, from a poetics based on exceptional discernment to a poetics based on participation and social connection. William Carlos Williams’s most important work with quotation, not published until the 1940s, developed out of his struggle throughout the 1930s to reconcile his commitment to rendering the “American idiom” with his growing doubts about his own ability to fully comprehend others’ experience. Finally, Charles Reznikoff, Muriel Rukeyser, and Louis Zukofsky each embarks, during the 1930s, on a documentary project that emphasizes the limitations of a poet’s power to shape the meaning of his or her poem.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10368151
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