In the review, I talk about Gery’s troubling response to Walt Whitman, and I discuss the odd situation of a lot of contemporary poetry: how it seems both focused on the human experience and deeply suspicious of it. On the one hand, such poems explore the particular lived experience, the delight of
the odd look a shaggy dog gave once
across a cornfield, that worn-down feeling
after you’ve spent a night caressing
someone ill who deserves your love,
or dressing up for a lingering meal
with no one especially important—
But on the other hand, they also present the constant barrage of news about the wider world, its vastness, its horrors, that make that single person’s lived experience appear to the verge on meaninglessness. If, for instance, I spend extra time to carefully respond to my students’ latest papers, how does that small act remain meaningful when colossally monstrous acts of injustice are occurring just outside the field of my perception?
In the collection, Gery tries different ways to reconcile these visions of the meaningful life, but it’s not clear, ultimately, how they can be reconciled, and this is troubling stuff.
Take a look!
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