The Poet's Freedom: A Notebook on Making

The Poet's Freedom: A Notebook on Making

Susan Stewart

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 0226773876

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Why do we need new art? How free is the artist in making? And why is the artist, and particularly the poet, a figure of freedom in Western culture? The MacArthur Award–winning poet and critic Susan Stewart ponders these questions in The Poet’s Freedom. Through a series of evocative essays, she not only argues that freedom is necessary to making and is itself something made, but also shows how artists give rules to their practices and model a self-determination that might serve in other spheres of work.

Stewart traces the ideas of freedom and making through insightful readings of an array of Western philosophers and poets—Plato, Homer, Marx, Heidegger, Arendt, Dante, and Coleridge are among her key sources. She begins by considering the theme of making in the Hebrew Scriptures, examining their accountof a god who creates the world and leaves humans free to rearrange and reform the materials of nature. She goes on to follow the force of moods, sounds, rhythms, images, metrical rules, rhetorical traditions, the traps of the passions, and the nature of language in the cycle of making and remaking. Throughout the book she weaves the insight that the freedom to reverse any act of artistic making is as essential as the freedom to create.
A book about the pleasures of making and thinking as means of life, The Poet’s Freedom explores and celebrates the freedom of artists who, working under finite conditions, make considered choices and shape surprising consequences. This engaging and beautifully written notebook on making will attract anyone interested in the creation of art and literature.













call, As if his liquid, loose retinue stayed Ling’ring, and were of this steep place afraid, The common pass, Where, clear as glass, All must descend Not to an end: But quickened by this deep and rocky grave, Rise to a longer course more bright and brave. He juxtaposes the even measure of pentameter couplets against the uneven dimeter passages: first a couplet, then, doubling, a pair of couplets in succession. Thus although the entire poem shares a common rhyme 68 chapter three scheme, the

restrict our concerns and hopes to the limits of our bodies. Such negative freedoms grant from the outset that power is something that must be wrested away from what is outside of our bodies and the limits of our bodily extension. Positive freedoms, however, involve acts of affirmation—they are experienced not as away from but as toward. The prevailing theme of negative freedom is our mortality; that of positive freedom, our decision to live. This notion of positive freedom has been popularized

an outcome of it, adds to the inverted metaphor of darkness nourishing a dying flame. Shelley underlines the vast asymmetry between our endless substitution of metaphors for death and the literal irredeemable fact of death itself. Shelley’s hymn reaches its epitome as section 5’s ending noise—the shrieking and clapping conversion—then leads, in section 6, to the poet’s allusions to the dream and hope his own words cannot express: that Intellectual Beauty will free the world from its “dark

and clasp’d my hands in ecstasy! Here the twenty-four-year-old Shelley is describing his boyhood fascination with ghoulish notions and lifelong enjoyment of horror stories. When he was a child, he especially liked to scare his sisters with invented legends like “The Great Snake.” And his biographer Richard Holmes records how just two years before, when Shelley, his wife Mary, and her sister Jane (Claire) Clairmont were together in London, Jane and Percy would stay up late frightening each other

thought itself. The necessity of starting out, of new beginnings, is as central to our existence as life itself—the very nature of our vitality. To assume that art making is a practice indicates from the outset that the long historical task of art is unfinished. Individual works will necessarily exhibit formal closure, but the task of art in general is incomplete and drives this process of continual beginnings. Something continues to call for art, something in the experience of those who make it

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