I wrote this in 2006 and have not updated or revised it. The history and bibliography are highly condensed due to the space restrictions of the printed volume; so what I was able offer was no more than a brief sketch of possibilities and directions, with much elided.
For the long history of Western poetics any short list is bound to be reductive and misleading; still, anthologies such as Hazard Adams’s Critical Theory Since Plato offer a good start, though, for poetics, it would be better to begin not with Plato but with Heraklitus, who already offers a response to Plato’s banishment of poetics from the ideal republic. Even the quickest tour of the Western canon of poetics would include stops for Longinus and Lucretius, apologies for poetry by Philip Sydney and Percy Shelley, William Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and Algernon Charles Swinburne’s William Blake, William Wordsworth’s “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, alongside Lautréamont’s Les chants de Maldoror and that still-burning torch, Oscar Wilde’s The Decay of Lying. On the American side, Edgar Allen Poe’s Philosophy of Literary Composition and Emily Dickinson’s letters[i] complement Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.
In the early summer of 1986, two young Austrian poets, Franz Josef Czernin and Ferdinand Schmatz, had the idea to write poems that closely resembled the poems they found most typical and at the same time most deplorable in contemporary poetry volumes, for example the work of Rainer Kunze, Günther Kunert, and Sarah Kirsch. At first they had the idea to call the poet Irene Schwaighofer (silent court), a poet born in a little town in upper Austria, who, familiar through schooling with the tenets of modernism, would need no time to forge her own distinctive style and upon being published would proceed to win many prizes and much praise. However, Czernin and Schmatz felt this process would take too long and in order to shorten the “difficult and boring” process, decided to give authorship of the poems to Czernin. They completed the work in a few weeks and the book was immediately accepted for publication under the title Die Reise (the journey). The book received positive attention, some of which suggested that at last Czernin has given up his thrashing about in the waters of experimentation and found a more profound and authentic voice. When Czernin broke the news of his own duplicitous relation to the poems in Der Spiegel in March 1987, a furious hale of criticism descended upon him, not the least from the publisher of the book, who felt he had been betrayed. Later the same year, Czernin and Schmatz published a book-length account of the story together with exchanges between them and several interlocking essays.
... Poetry’s unpopularity, or anyway the unpopularity of the kind of poetry I want, is part of its cultural condition and so part of its advantage. Its unpopularity may even be popular; that’s poetic logic for you. How about saying that poetry is the research and development wing of verbal language, better understood as collaborative thinking and investigation, at least for some of the practitioners? It doesn’t necessarily express an individual author’s biographical feelings in a conventionally lyrical manner—a great deal of poetry does that, but a great deal doesn’t. The elitism is not poetry’s, but commodity culture’s, which says that value comes exclusively from the market or audience share. Forms of culture that are not immediately accessible to a mass or popular audience also matter. Difficulty is not an obstacle, it is a material means for engagement with the social real. Yes we can.
"attack of the difficult poems" … is a great book! you must read this book! it will provide you with an education about what is happening, has been happening, in the world of post modern poetry and why it is important for everyone to pay attention to it, important socially, personally, religiously. also very funny (the book is funny) and brilliant and a pleasure to read. i was sad when i finished it, but well, isn't this always what happens. …