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American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions$
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Cindy Weinstein and Christopher Looby

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231156172

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231156172.001.0001

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Upon a Peak in Beinecke

Upon a Peak in Beinecke

The Beauty of the Book in the Poetry of Susan Howe

(p.263) [12] Upon a Peak in Beinecke
American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions

Elisa New

Columbia University Press

This chapter examines the material details of Susan Howe's poetry. It suggests that the material details of her books (cover art, typography, illustrations, etc.) all signify richly and together make a claim for “poetry's coextensive relation with matter.” What counts as materiality here is various and encompassing: it includes not only the physical details of a poem's embodiment in print but poetry's social existence as “a production, a profession, an institution”; the conditions under which a poet makes the poem (desk, chair, light); and the conditions under which a reader encounters it later (in a library, in bed, at a public reading). The aesthetic or literary dimension, we often assume, resides exactly where the accidental material form of a text is left behind. But Howe's poetic practice turns these ingrained assumptions on their head, insisting instead on “physical density and sensate clamor,” refusing to disown or transcend its embodiment. It routinely thematizes its existence as “print, paper, and ink,” as well as its rich enmeshment in academic and other institutions as well as literary and intellectual inheritances.

Keywords:   Susan Howe, poetry, poets, aesthetics, material details

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