Tommi Kotonen Ph.D
Political Science / Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of Jyväskylä
P.O. Box 35 (Ylistönmäentie 33)
FI-40014 University of Jyväskylä
The Politics of Poetic Form
Kotonen’s research examines the interconnectedness of form and content in the poetry of Charles Olson (1910-1970) and some of his contemporaries. Olson’s status as an innovator of poetic form is essential in post-war American literature, and his influence is seen, for example, in the contemporary poetics of the so called “language school”. He argues that the reformation of poetic form proposed by Olson has an obvious political basis and, as such, is a continuation of the tradition of poetical avant-garde.
Olsen’s new poetics, which were presented in his essay Projective Verse in 1950, can be seen as an attempt to contrast the ideological premises of pre-war poetry. The ´open-form´, ´authentic´, process-oriented, improvisatory, colloquial, and vernacular poetry of the new poetics were opposed to the conservatism, formalism, and suspect politics of modernism. Olson’s major work, Maximus Poems, is quite correctly seen as a reply or antithesis to the epic – and considering its content, fascist – Cantos of Ezra Pound.
As some dissident critics have lamented, mainstream poetry still seems to generally ignore the political and ideological presuppositions dominating its language and form. Formal poetic strategies – prosody, referentiality etc. – are in Kotonen’s opinion essential to its specific political nature. As was manifested by Olson, poetry should not be seen as a universalistic, transcendental or eternal form of truth, but as a local, immanent and contemporary form of enactment. With serving as its foundation, the olsonian strategy politicises poetical form and challenges its claims of eternal value, and thus “brings poetry back in” to politics.