Wednesday 15 June 2011

Invisible Listeners

Finished June 14
Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and Ashbery by Helen Vendler
I'm not really sure how this book got on my TBR list (maybe my love for poetry?) but it was one started but not finished, until yesterday.
Not a long book, it focuses on the addressed invisible listener in these three poets works.
For Herbert, his listener was God, and the author shows how it changed from a vertical relationship to a still vertical but more intimate, parental type relationship, to a horizontal one, where Herbert addressed his listener as "friend".
For Whitman, she shows the change in the treatment of listener as well. Here it changes from a hopeful near future friend he can have a full relationship with, to a future generation where such a relationship can exist, to the ultimate invisible listener of Death. His address to death is a very intimate and friendly one, unusual even among poets.
For Ashbery, he is struck by a painting viewed in 1959 by Francesco Parmigianino, "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror". He is moved to research the painter and painting and finally writes a poem addressing him in 1972. He finds in him a fellow artist who shows art distorting what it portrays, and addresses him as a friend.
This is an interesting look at the role of invisible listener in poetry, and while more academic than my usual reading, gave me insight into the poems I love.

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