Attention Span 2011 | Stephen Burt
Angela Leighton | On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism and the Legacy of a Word | Oxford | 2007
Art for art’s sake becomes art for form’s sake becomes art for the sake of nothing, or nothing inside: a nihilism not for destructive Russians but for pensive, patient ancients, in a line of descent that starts with Lucretius and keeps on ticking, to (take your pick) Stevens or Ashbery or you or me. Bonus: includes the best case I have ever seen for sustained attention to the thoughtful poetry of W. S. Graham.
Jennifer Finney Boylan | She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders | Broadway | 2003
“I didn’t want to be told I had to be a woman…. People can’t have everything they want, I thought. It is your fate to accept a life being something other than yourself.
“I don’t think this is so crazy, even now. If I could have pulled this off, I would have.”
Christopher Nealon | The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in the American Century | Harvard | 2011
At least half the people who read Third Factory probably knew this book was on the way: it’s out, and it’s short, and it doesn’t disappoint. Some of its supposedly contrarian claims are going to be commonplaces pretty soon—sort of like the claims in The Well-Wrought Urn. Bonus: includes the best case I have ever seen for sustained attention to the thoughtful poetry of Kevin Davies.
Timothy Donnelly | The Cloud Corporation | Wave | 2010
Another long-awaited book about the deformations that way-too-late capitalism works on the voice and the soul; exhilarating and saddening at the same time. It helps if you, too, love Stevens, disappointments, urbanity and urbanneness (not the same thing, and not in that order). “Right around here is where I start getting lost.”
Jennifer Homans | Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet | Random | 2010
I started reading this book because I had to (it was a candidate for an award): I didn’t think I cared for ballet at all. By the time I finished it I had come to care a great deal, not just for the art form and its history, but for the magisterial way in which Homans takes her imagined reader in hand: it’s a doorstop, but it’s also a masterpiece, and it’s a book you ought to consult if you ever plan to write a large-scale cultural history of anything at all.
Charles Baudelaire, trans. Wallace Fowlie | Flowers of Evil/ Les Fleurs du Mal and other works: a dual language book | Dover | 1992 (1963)
“Through the symbolic bars separating two worlds, the main road and the castle, the poor child was showing his own toy to the rich child who was greedily examining it.”
Stephen Burt is a professor of English at Harvard. His books include The Art of the Sonnet, with David Mikics, and Close Calls with Nonsense.
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