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Changing SubjectsDigressions in Modern American Poetry$
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Srikanth Reddy

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199791026

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199791026.001.0001

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Digression Personified

Digression Personified

Whitman, the New York School, and the Drift of Poetry

Chapter:
(p.95) Chapter 4 Digression Personified
Source:
Changing Subjects
Author(s):

Srikanth Reddy

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199791026.003.0004

“A book I have made, the words of my book nothing, the drift of it every thing,” said Walt Whitman in 1865. While this may seem an extraordinary claim for a wordsmith to make, the concept of textual drift defines a strain of American writing from “the radiant gist” of Williams’ Paterson to the implicit question (“get my drift?”) which underwrites the Beat aesthetic in the post-war period. In the writings of Frank O’Hara, poetic utterance is modelled upon the digressive drift of “metropolitan conversation” as a means of constructing personhood; this writer’s conversation poems articulate a mode of self-presentation which prioritizes the digressive drift of personality over formal, expository discourse on any single governing subject. Moving from Whitman through O’Hara to the post-war Manhattan art world, this section discusses the abolition of the pictorial subject under the aesthetics of abstraction; wielding conversational digressions instead of oils and acrylic in poems such as “Digression on Number 1, 1948,” O’Hara imports the New York School’s painterly project of constructing “a text without a subject” into the discursive field of language.

Keywords:   New York School, Frank O’Hara, Walt Whitman, conversation poetry, pictorial abstraction

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