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Part of the Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture Series
Self and Sensibility in Contemporary American Poetry is an inquiry into the cultural roles lyric poetry does and can play in our age. Charles Altieri first establishes a dominant mode in 'serious' American poetry by identifying current assumptions inherent in the teaching of creative writing and the awarding of prizes and contracts. The dominant mode is seen not as a prescribed style but as a set of styles that share assumptions and that tend to seek the same narrow audience. Altieri views this mode as essentially scenic, presenting in brief dramatic settings subdued, carefully wrought emotions that build to a climactic tactile image. In examining why the style appeals, the author suggests that we find in the dominant mode models of the self, of the power of language, and of the nature of emotions that are very close to the prudential narcissism of the professional classes. Two theses follow: that contemporary poetry can be approached as a paradigm for analysing literature in cultural terms (since we know the culture well on independent grounds); and that the cultural analogies help demonstrate the pressures on younger poets to explore styles that break from or attempt to overthrow the dominant mode.