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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Cole Swensen's Poetry City

Posted: October 26, 2004 to Identity Theory website -
I’m going to talk about not poetry of the city, but poetry as a city. Poetry is a city of words, a complex heterogeneity that functions both as its parts and as a whole. It’s full of systems—metaphoric, symbolic, sonic—analogous to the sewage, electrical, and transportation systems that animate a city. You look at a jagged skyline, and see the ragged right margin; you read through the quick shifts of much contemporary poetry, and think of a busy intersection in which your view is cut off by a bus one moment, then opened up the next, and then filled with a crowd crossing the street the next.

The poetic forms most common in the Western world today emerged with modernism, itself a product of the shift in consciousness that accompanied the urban explosion of the mid–nineteenth century. Modernist poetry and cities mirror each other, shed light on each other, and remain together in important works, such as Baudelaire’s, that predict and theorize the city as much as they record it.

The whole essay is available at

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