Sunday, October 05, 2008


Robert Bly on literary style

Here are three short passages from an essay by Robert Bly, which he wrote as the introduction to The Best American Poetry 1999, of which he was the guest editor:

"Heat in itself has been disappearing for some years from our English. It is said that in a single day in the United States more words appear on computer screens than are secreted in all the books in the Library of Congress. But as these words stream across our screens, freed from doubt or elegance, we can see that computer verbiage has become the model of cool and empty language."


"It's possible that the particular heat which we call style amounts to recognizing and remembering the flavor of the decade in which one became an adult. We more and more have English now no longer stung by the mood of an Oklahoma afternoon in the Thirties, or the flavor of an Illinois dusk in the Forties. Hardy's language we recognize to be blessedly imprisoned in the language mood of Sussex in 1880. When the irreplaceable flavor of a given decade disappears, our language loses its vigor and becomes merely useful."


"American poets are fighting against this cooling in several ingenious ways. Not all poets, of course. One group of poets who call themselves "Language" poets work very hard to drain all the meaning out of the words they use, and in this way resemble those eighteenth century doctors who treated all problems by bleeding, occasionally failing to notice that the patient had died from loss of blood."

The complete essay is here.

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