The Transmutation of Love and Avant-Garde Poetics is a probing examination of how the writing of sexual love undergoes a radical revision by avant-garde poets in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Today, the exploration of love by poets-long a fixture of Western poetic tradition-is thought to be in decline, with love itself understood to be a mere ideological overlay for the more “real” entities of physical sex and desire.
In The Transmutation of Love and Avant-Garde Poetics, Jeanne Heuving claims that a key achievement of poetry by Ezra Pound, H.D., Robert Duncan, Kathleen Fraser, Nathaniel Mackey, and others lies significantly in their engagement with the synergistic relations between being in love and writing love. These poets, she argues, have traded the clichéd lover of yore for impersonal or posthuman poetic speakers that sustain the gloire and mystery of love poetry of prior centuries. As Robert Duncan writes, “There is a love in which we are outcast and vagabond from what we are that we call ‘falling in love.'”
Heuving claims that this writing of love is defining for avant-garde poetics, identifying how such important discoveries as Pound’s and H.D.’s Imagism, Pound’s Cantos, and Duncan’s “open field poetics” are derived through their changed writing of love. She draws attention to how the prevailing concept of language as material is inadequate to the ways these poets also engage language as a medium-as a conduit-enabling them to address love afresh in a time defined through preoccupations with sexuality. They engage love as immanent and change it through a writing that acts on itself.
The Transmutation of Love and Avant-Garde Poetics ascribes the waning of love poetry to its problematic form: a genre in which empowered poetic speakers constitute their speech through the objectification of comparatively disempowered subjects, or beloveds. Refusing this pervasive practice, the poets she highlights reject the delimiting, one-sided tradition of masculine lovers and passive feminine beloveds; instead, they create a more nuanced, dynamic poetics of ecstatic exploration, what Heuving calls “projective love” and “libidinized field poetics,” a formally innovative poetry, in which one perception leads directly to the next and all aspects of a poem are generative of meaning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeanne Heuving is a professor of English at the University of Washington Bothell and a graduate faculty member at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is the author of Omissions Are Not Accidents: Gender in the Art of Marianne Moore as well as two poetry collections.
PRAISE FOR THE TRANSMUTATION OF LOVE
“The Transmutation of Love and Avant-Garde Poetics proposes that the engagement of sexual love and its energies is the source of the creative power in some of the most interesting poetry written in the past one hundred years. Asserting the value of a ‘projective love and libidinized field poetics,’ Jeanne Heuving astutely draws our attention to the erotic transformations that animate the poetry of Pound, H.D., Duncan, Mackey, and Fraser, assessing changes through the psychodynamic propositions of Plato, Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva. The result is a truly enlightening insistence on the connections between these poets’ formal innovations and the topic of sexual love, whose permissions Heuving ingeniously finds submerged as a slowed down, introjective set of relations in Olson’s ‘Projective Verse,’ a discovery I find revelatory. The whole book, sharply written and superbly argued, should alter the way American avant-garde poetry is read.”
—Peter O’Leary, author of Phosphorescence of Thought and Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan and the Poetry of Illness
“Jeanne Heuving has written an ardent study of the metamorphosis of Western love and its classic poetic tropes involving desire and the poetic objects of longing, by proposing an altered configuration of eros in modern and contemporary poetry. Resisting the attack on or the reduction of love as only a literary or social convention, and acknowledging changed relations of gender and altered knowledge of sexualities in modernity, Heuving treats the poetic practices of Pound, H.D., Duncan, Fraser, and Mackey and offers serious theorizing on the poetics of Amor. This vibrant contribution to poetic criticism makes claims for love as ecstatic perception, the I as ‘othered’ in love, and the affects and effects of this eros, all going beyond the poetry of the yearning gaze and the static beloved into a wider libidinal field. In fascinating readings and deft theoretical insights, she tracks the implications of this rearticulation of eros for poetic languages, formal innovations, textual subjectivities, and poetics.”
–Rachel Blau DuPlessis, author of The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice, Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work, and Purple Passages: Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley, and the Ends of Patriarchal Poetry
Modern and Contemporary Poetics
Charles Bernstein and Hank Lazer, series editors
ISBN: 978-0-8173-5843-3 Paper
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8909-3 Ebook