How do poems remember? What kinds of memory do poems register that
factual, chronological accounts of the past are oblivious to? What
is the self created by such practices of memory? To answer these
questions, Uta Gosmann introduces a general theory of 'poetic
memory, ' a manner of thinking that eschews simple-minded notions
of linearity and accuracy in order to uncover the human subject's
intricate relationship to a past that it cannot fully know. Gosmann
explores poetic memory in the work of Sylvia Plath, Susan Howe,
Ellen Hinsey, and Louise GlYck, four contemporary American poets
writing in a wide range of styles and discussed here for the first
time together. Drawing on psychoanalysis, memory studies, and
thinkers from Nietzsche and Benjamin to Halbwachs and Kristeva,
Gosmann uses these demanding poets to articulate an alternative,
non-empirical model of the self in poetry. Plath, the
quintessential 'confessional' poet, faces the precariousness of
personal memory and first suffers, but then sardonically embraces
the most horrific and vulgar fragments from the storehouse of
collective memory. Howe, the experimentalist language poet, becomes
the rememberer of marginal or 'nonconformist' figures, whose
eccentricities, incoherences, and silences are the very grounds
that enable her to inhabit the past. Hinsey, the lesser known of
these poets who writes in the European tradition of poetry of
witness, creates 'cities of memory' for us to dwell in, allowing us
to imagine the past's spatial and temporal texture and its personal
significance in fresh ways. GlYck, the 'post-confessional, '
expands the memory of the self by enmeshing personal and archetypal
memory via the persona of Persphone, a generative confluence which
leaves both kinds of memory transformed. When these poets look at
the past, they perceive its flawed representations, its lack of
certainty, its margins and gaps, its traces in space, its deep
marks in the psyche. They share an intuitive certainty of self as
being other, and they look in different places to find what was
split off, forgotten, and psychically lost. They use words, which
are complex bits of memory, to push against encrusted structures or
apparent boundaries of the mind and seek to represent more fluid
states of consciousness. Poetic language-riven with metaphor,
unrestricted by familiar forms of logic-is especially conducive to
the work of poetic memory. Poetic memory embraces a vision of the
self as malleable and mysterious, characterized by a radical
otherness, and shaped by unconscious forces, while it remains open
for continual imaginative reinvention. Through the practice of
poetic memory, to speak with Plotinus, the soul 'is and becomes
what it remembers
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