The Material of Poetry
Sketches for a Philosophical Poetics

Gerald L. Bruns

Why we need "difficult poetry"


"Gerald Bruns's The Material of Poetry provides an incisive account of the philosophical engagements of some of the most formally radical poetry of our time. With edifying cogency, he transforms the ancient war of philosophy on poetry into an aesthetic and ethical alliance on behalf of freedom. In bringing philosophy back to poetry, Bruns finds the truth of things in the verbo-voco-visual plenitude of language."
—Charles Bernstein, author of The Sophist

"Avoiding obfuscating terminology, Bruns makes a compelling case for the proposition that 'anything, under certain conditions, may be made to count as a poem.'"

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Poetry is philosophically interesting, writes Gerald L. Bruns, "when it is innovative not just in its practices, but, before everything else, in its poetics (that is, in its concepts or theories of itself)." In The Material of Poetry, Bruns considers the possibility that anything, under certain conditions, may be made to count as a poem. By spelling out such enabling conditions he gives us an engaging overview of some of the kinds of contemporary poetry that challenge our notions of what language is: sound poetry, visual or concrete poetry, and "found" poetry.

Poetry's sense and meaning can hide in the spaces in which it is written and read, says Bruns, and so he urges us to become anthropologists, to go afield in poetry's social, historical, and cultural settings. From that perspective, Bruns draws on works by such varied poets as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Steve McCaffery, and Francis Ponge to argue for three seemingly competing points. First, poetry is made of language but is not a use of it. That is, poetry is made of words but not of what we use words to produce: concepts, narratives, expressions of feeling, and so on. Second, as the nine sound poems on the CD included with the book demonstrate, poetry is not necessarily made of words but is rooted in, and in fact already fully formed by, sounds the human body can produce. Finally, poetry belongs to the world alongside ordinary things; it cannot be confined to some aesthetic, neutral, or disengaged dimension of human culture.

Poetry without frontiers, unmoored from expectations, and sometimes even written in imaginary languages: Bruns shows us why, for the sake of all poetry, we should embrace its anarchic, vitalizing ways.

Georgia Southern University Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Lecture Series

Page count: 168 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $22.95

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Gerald L. Bruns is the William P. and Hazel B. White Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent books are What Are Poets For? Studies in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics and On Ceasing to Be Human. He has won NEH and Guggenheim fellowships, and has been a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.