Why Teach Contemporary Poetries?
  • Joan Retallack
  • Juliana Spahr


Educational institutions like to think they know where they are going and that’s why the word pedagogy has an almost irretrievably pejorative cast. The old-fashioned specter of pedagogy as a kind of psychological and moral teleology marching toward ideals of compliant good citizenship had hardly been outmoded before its anti-authoritarian replacement began to look suspiciously benighted and equally manipulative. The student who must question all authority must become the ultimate skeptic and therefore, paradoxically, cannot assume a critical stance toward the pedagogy of self-expression s/he is offered as an instrument of freedom. In the maw of this dichotomy between power as knowledge and student-centered learning, the very things that matter—the informed imagination, the passionate intellect—can be swallowed whole.


Language Practice Pedagogical Implication Word Pedagogy Informed Imagination Anational Poetry 
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  1. 1.
    Plato, “Symposium,” in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (New York: Pantheon Books, 1961), 557.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Norman Finkelstein, for instance, writes, “In a paradoxically self-promoting move, they have lambasted the academy, which has been all too eager to lionize them and admit some of them into its ranks” (103). In reply, see Alan Golding’s From Outlaw to Classic: Canons in American Poetry (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995) where he argues: “There are a number of reasons, then, why we need not swallow whole the argument that the assimilation of poetic and cultural critique into the academy negates or compromises entirely the force of that critique, especially when the last few years’ culture wars suggest how many Americans see an academically based cultural criticism as threatening and potentially effective. First, a distinction should be made between the address, reception, and use of Language writing on the one hand and the institutional status of individuals on the other. To be specific: relatively few Language writers make a full-time living in English departments, and even fewer are employed as poets, to teach creative writing. Second, ‘assimilation’ is a matter of degrees…. Paul Hoover’s Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology is the first anthology from a major trade press to contain a substantial number of Language poets. Third, at least some Language writers can be read as ‘assimilating’ the academy as much as it is assimilating them” (148). Maria Damon also points out that poets begin to enter the academy at the same moment that arts funding gets dramatically cut in “Poetic Canons: Generative Oxymoron or Stalled-Out Dialectic?” in Contemporary Literature 39:3 (1998), 146–151. See also Brian Kim Stefans on this same topic (in reply to Standard Schaefer) at Scholar

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© Joan Retallack and Juliana Spahr 2006

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  • Joan Retallack
  • Juliana Spahr

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