‘Combination of a Guitar and a Wooden Shoulder-mounted Grenade Launcher’: Poetry, Quotation, and an Instrumental Self
Charles Altieri has said that drawing inference from concrete particulars in poetry is an essentially mystical process, related, whatever its subject, to religious contemplation. Proponents of a more digressive or associative poetry sometimes position anti-symbolic modes like metonymy and collage on a horizontal and more social plane. Like many poets, I am interested in both these movements of mind, and like many poets I am interested in the intersections of a private metaphysics with politics and history. For me, this intersection must take place at the level of poetics, not just the level of content. To borrow a phrase from Patricia Hampl, the self can be used as an instrument rather than a source, a means by which we can both sight and site the factual and the ethical. I will present poems from two new collections in which methods of collage and pastiche allow the autobiographical to take part in, not displace, public, political and linguistic contingencies. Bone Pagoda (forthcoming) is an extended meditation on Vietnam and the Vietnam War. Gallowglass (in progress) uses collage to place personal grief on a level plane with the public grief of war. I will also talk briefly about methodology and about writing these poems in the context of current wars.
Keywords: Poetry, Political Poetry, Literary Collage, War Literature
Associate Professor, Department of English