About the Author

Michael Lista

Michael Lista is a poet and essayist, whose work has been published in the Walrus, Maisonneuve, The Malahat Review, The James Joyce Quarterly, Arc, Descant, Canadian Literature, and Border Crossings. Recently, his work was included in the companion book to Guy Maddin's film My Winnipeg. He has been a finalist for a National Magazine Award, the Arc Poem of the Year Prize, The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, and the Descant/Winston Collins Prize, and he has been shortlisted twice for the Puschcart Prize. He lives in Toronto.

Books by this Author
Bloom

Bloom

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian, history
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Strike Anywhere

Strike Anywhere

Essays, Reviews & Other Arsons
edition:Paperback
tagged : essays
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Excerpt

The Imitation Game

Sometime after Virgil aped Homer but before Kenneth Goldsmith nicked the New York Times, poets began robbing one another. It's no surprise: both strands of the Western tradition's double helix?the Hellenic and the Hebraic?begin with thefts, the Greeks absconding with Helen, and Eve filching the fruit. According to Harold Bloom, even Genesis isn't sui-generis, having pilfered all its best bits from an earlier ur-text called The Book of J. As Beckett?or was it Andy Warhol?first said: "There's nothing new under the sun."

When the second poet stole from the very first, he was a larcenist; when the third robbed the first two, he was a traditionalist. Ever since, the relationship between a poet and her predecessors has been described as influence?a fraught intellectual and stylistic exchange by which the old gives birth to the new. Influence's most salient feature, as T.S. Eliot pointed out in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," is that it is anything but accidental. A literary inheritance may be many things, but it isn't heritable. Safes don't crack and divest themselves; it takes talent, discipline, and hard work to steal what someone else earned fair and square.

The critic who has written most obsessively about how and why poets influence one another is Harold Bloom. In The Anxiety of Influence, and its follow-up, A Map of Misreading, Bloom proposes a kind of Freudian theory of influence whereby poets enter into an agon, or struggle, with their forbearers. There comes a moment that he calls the "dialectic of influence," when the young poet realizes that poetry is both outside of her?in the library, in the canon?and nascent inside of her. If she's a "strong poet," she'll also realize that nearly all she wants to say has been said already, and well. But her ambition is what makes her strong, and so she will "misread" her most august predecessors, detecting an omission that only she is equipped to redress: herself.

In Bloom's theory of influence, the young poet reads the greats with a simultaneous affinity and anxiety. The line that sings also stings, an agonizing reminder of the newcomer's belatedness. Nevertheless, great poets breed great poets, and you can trace our English lineage like a line of bad blood. Milton comes from Virgil and Spenser, but especially Shakespeare; Keats from Shakespeare and Milton; Tennyson from Keats, etc. In A Map of Misreading Bloom charts the agon of inheritance as far as A.R. Ammons and John Ashbery, in whose prolix digressiveness Bloom detects an almost crippling belatedness commensurate with our own late hour. By focusing on major careers, he takes for granted that poetry's trajectory is charted by great poets. But in the explosive proliferation of MFA programs since A Map of Misreading was published forty years ago, programs that graduate tens of thousands of writers every year, is that still how influence works? Who do poets want to write like today, and why?

[Continued in Strike Anywhere . . .]

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The Scarborough

The Scarborough

edition:eBook
tagged : canadian
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