Poetry for Students, Vol. 35 by Sara Constantakis, David J. Kelly

By Sara Constantakis, David J. Kelly

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He dismissed the eighteenth-century assumption that types of poetry intrinsically form a hierarchy, with epic and tragedy the highest forms and comedy and satire among the lowest. In this hierarchy, the neoclassicists placed short lyric poems at the very bottom. Wordsworth chose to write lyric poems, translating his democratic values into a literary choice that promoted the lowest form as the best. He depicted peasants, outcasts, and criminals, believing them to be worthy subjects of poetry. Another neoclassical assumption was that the language used ought to be elevated, ornate, and complicated.

Mortal Acts, Mortal Words was published in 1980, which turned out to be a decade in which Kinnell published some of his most acclaimed poetry. Selected Poems (1982) earned a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983. Kinnell received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984. In 1986, another collection of poetry, The Past (1985), garnered a National Book Critics Circle Award for Kinnell. In 1987, Kinnell edited The Essential Whitman. Kinnell’s poetry has often been compared to Whitman’s. Kinnell’s 1990 book of poetry, When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone, was his twentysecond collection of his verse.

What, we may ask, interrupts the cry? It is the same conscience that had interrupted him twice before: upon his view of the saddest city lane and upon his passing by the watchman. The conscience heaves in sight three times. His conscience is an acquaintance with his own night, or the sometimes blind persistence of the conscious mind. His awareness of his position plagues him, overriding any comfortable solitude and breaking the impenetrable void of the night. By continuing after the cry, by looking past the sad street and away from the watchman, the persona seeks comfort in the night, supposing that nothingness cannot create a disturbance.

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