After Auschwitz : rigor, risk, and witness in American Holocaust poetry / by Devon Miller-Duggan.
This study explores the relationship between aesthetics and ethics in the Holocaust work of eight American poets: Barbara Helfgott Hyett, Charles Reznikoff, William Heyen, Jerome Rothenberg, Carolyn Forche, Randall Jarrell, Anthony Hecht, and W. D. Snodgrass. It asserts that there is a close connection between the quality of a poem and its ability to function as ethical work in the context of catastrophic histories, and it examines issues of formal rigor and emotional discipline in such poems, offering standards by which to judge both ethical function and aesthetic value in Holocaust poetry. Since all Holocaust writing is overshadowed by Theodor Adorno's dictum that after Auschwitz, the writing of lyric poetry would be barbaric, the study explores the influence of Adorno's idea. It also discusses the poets in terms of their works' response or absence of response to Adorno. The first chapter discusses the work of Hyett and Reznikoff in terms of the disciplines and decisions involved in writing found poetry, arguing that both poets accomplish a powerful balance between documentation and creation. Chapter Two examines the long sequences by Heyen, Rothenberg, and Forche, considering the extent to which their projects' failures are related to the poems' open forms. The third chapter discusses the formal work of Jarrell, Hecht, and Snodgrass, and suggests that the poems of Hecht and Snodgrass achieve a radical combination of virtuosity and brutality. All three chapters use extensive close-reading in order to map the ways in which the poems do their work. The study concludes that for Holocaust poetry to do valuable cultural work, it must be the product of some discipline on the poet's part that prevents the poetry from focusing either on simplistic emotional responses, or on the poet's own responses to the material. The first fosters comfort for reader and writer, and the complex moral challenges of the Holocaust are not best served by simplistic feeling. The second focuses the poem on the writer, using the Holocaust to talk about the writer's pain, an appropriation in which the writer equates his or her suffering with that of the victims of Auschwitz.
Record last modified: 2018-05-22 11:47:00
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