One of the frustrating things about academic writing is the categories set by the institution. These categories slice through histories to abstract people, epochs, and bodies of knowledge from their context and settle them deep into the belly of the institution to be studied as phenomena without cause or provenance.
The history of Iranian modernism is inseparable from the history of literary translation. In most accounts of Iranian literary history, the translation of European literary works played a formative role in the redefinition of poetic discourse as well as in the introduction of new literary genres, such as the short story and the novel, to modern Persian literature. In his landmark study of Iranian literary modernism, Mohammad Reza Shafiʿi-Kadkani rejects the ascription of originality to Iranian modernism.
In twenty-first century poetry about the millennial wars in Iraq, the deities and heroes of ancient Mesopotamia are congregating. Dunya Mikhail’s “Inanna” imagines the eponymous Sumerian goddess decrying the sight of “antiquities / scattered / and broken / in the museum.”
This summer, the modernist scholar Johanna Winant and I found ourselves working on a number of converging projects, from book chapters to essays on Stanley Cavell’s philosophy and Donald Hall’s poetry. Below we reflect on the process of writing together, sharing work, and discovering the kinds of friendship that collaboration makes possible
Major advances in modernist poetics have long occurred through contact with experiments in the visual and plastic arts: one need only think of the “cubist” poetics of Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, and Gertrude Stein, of the New York School’s links to Abstract Expressionism, or, most recently, of conceptual writing’s regular citation of Brion Gysin’s claim that “writing is fifty years behind painting." Poets would find their community amongst artists; but also, the poetics itself would emerge out of critical engagement with the work of the poets’ artist peers: adapting compositional practices and techniques; adopting conceptual vocabularies. At times, this leads to intermedia experiment (Calligrammes, collage, concrete work); at others, to a renewed focus on the medium–specificity of poetry: both the peculiar possibilities of language as material and resource for art–making, and the repertoire of techniques and conventions through which this material is deployed.
My farewell post for the “Process” column is a brief conversation with Jahan Ramazani, University Professor and Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English at the University of Virginia, and a scholar whose work I admire greatly and follow closely. He gives serious attention to strong poets who aren’t always read with such insight, as well as leveling powerful arguments about how verse frames identity, feeling, and nation.
An early letter from Willa Cather to Zoë Akins in 1914 consists almost entirely of blunt feedback to the aspiring writer. Some representative lines, "This story, my dear Zoe is written to be smart. . . . There’s either got to be real feeling in a story, or an intellectual interest of the highest order. . . .