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How Poets See the World

Although readers of prose fiction sometimes find descriptive passages superfluous or boring, description itself is often the most important aspect of a poem. This book examines how a variety of contemporary poets use description in their work.
Description has been the great burden of poetry. How do poets see the world? How do they look at it? What do they look for? Is description an end in itself, or a means of expressing desire? Ezra Pound demanded that a poem should represent the external world as objectively and directly as possible,
and William Butler Yeats, in his introduction to The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936), said that he and his generation were rebelling against, inter alia, "irrelevant descriptions of nature" in the work of their predecessors. The poets in this book, however, who are distinct in many ways from one
another, all observe the external world of nature or the reflected world of art, and make relevant poems out of their observations.
This study deals with the crisp, elegant work of Charles Tomlinson, the swirling baroque poetry of Amy Clampitt, the metaphysical meditations of Charles Wright from a position in his backyard, the weather reports and landscapes of John Ashbery, and the "new way of looking" that Jorie Graham proposes
to explore in her increasingly fragmented poems. All of these poets, plus others (Gary Snyder, Theodore Weiss, Irving Feldman, Richard Howard) who are dealt with more briefly, attend to what Wallace Stevens, in a memorable phrase, calls "the way things look each day." The ordinariness of daily
reality is the beginning of the poets' own idiosyncratic, indeed unique, visions andstyles.
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About the Author

Willard Spiegleman is Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University and Editor-in-Chief of The Southwest Review.


Many critics have explored the relationship between landscape and language, but Spiegelman goes farthest in analyzing the disposition of parts of speech and syntactic arrangements, the sentences that create the effect of description. This attention to language leads Spiegelman to some superb close reading. He understands that poetry is first and foremost an art form, with language as its medium, figuration its inevitable activity.... Reading him, we are observers of an honest, intense encounter with some major contemporary writers. Every poet must wish for such attentiveness, such willingness to learn from the poems themselves how they want to be read. * Bonnie Costello, Literary Imagination * Masterly.... Spiegelman demonstrates again and again how a superlatively educated, cultivated, sympathetic, earnest, even passionate reader...goes about the joyful business of reading every scripture in the spirit in which it was written.... That How Poets See the World can balance these two imperative, to see by means of and to see the true nature of, is its large and substantial achievement. * Twentieth-Century Literature * How Poets See the World yields fresh insights on every page, touching upon the history of taste, or the sources of styles. As a guide to the work of poets whose difficulty Spiegelman never glosses over, it is indispensable. * Rachel Hadas, Rutgers University * Spiegelman's masterly study of the persistence of the descriptive impulse in contemporary poetry, ranging from Tomlinson's just looking (the play on words is Tomlinson's) to Graham's ongoing search for "a new way of looking," demonstrated how resourceful poets of various stripes engage themselves and the reader in inventive acts of looking at the visible world. Spiegelman has served his poets, and the art of poetry, well.. * Partial Answers * Spiegelman's masterly study of the persistence of the descriptive impulse in contemporary poetrydemonstrates how resourcefully poets of various stripes engage themselves and the reader in inventive acts of looking at the visible world. Spiegelman has served his poets, and the art of poetry, well. * Frank J. Kearful, Partial Answers *

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