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Poetry and Its Others

News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres

What is poetry? Often it is understood as a largely self-enclosed verbal system—“suspended from any mutual interaction with alien discourse,” in the words of Mikhail Bakhtin. But in Poetry and Its Others, Jahan Ramazani reveals modern and contemporary poetry’s animated dialogue with other genres and discourses. Poetry generates rich new possibilities, he argues, by absorbing and contending with its near verbal relatives.
Exploring poetry’s vibrant exchanges with other forms of writing, Ramazani shows how poetry assimilates features of prose fiction but differentiates itself from novelistic realism; metabolizes aspects of theory and philosophy but refuses their abstract procedures; and recognizes itself in the verbal precision of the law even as it separates itself from the law’s rationalism. But poetry’s most frequent interlocutors, he demonstrates, are news, prayer, and song. Poets such as William Carlos Williams and W. H. Auden refashioned poetry to absorb the news while expanding its contexts; T. S. Eliot and Charles Wright drew on the intimacy of prayer though resisting its limits; and Paul Muldoon, Rae Armantrout, and Patience Agbabi have played with and against song lyrics and techniques. Encompassing a cultural and stylistic range of writing unsurpassed by other studies of poetry, Poetry and Its Others shows that we understand what poetry is by examining its interplay with what it is not.

304 pages | 1 halftone | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2013

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory


“Illuminating analyses of a diverse set of poems. . . . Recommended.”


"Ramazani casts much light on the question of what poetry is—or perhaps what it does. . . . [H]is approach opens new possibilities for reconsidering how poems. . . are in dialogue with philosophy or with contemporary writing about the visual arts."

Lisa M. Steinman | Wallace Stevens Journal

“After considering the historical contexts and thematic ties between works of different genres, [Ramazani] swoops in on passages of rich complexity and allusiveness, seizing the kernel of poetic distinctiveness. . . . Against a background of non­poetry, the specific features that make poetry recognizable suddenly stand out.”

Twentieth-Century Literature

“A wide-ranging affair that travels throughout the English-speaking world and is as engaged with the contemporary as it is with the established canon. . . . Marrying methodology and content, Poetry and Its Others becomes the rich and varied thing it sets out to consider.”

Time Present: The Newsletter of the T. S. Eliot Society

“It is delightful to watch Jahan Ramazani do what he does best: delve into poets such as Hopkins, Yeats, Heaney, and Muldoon and show us the nitty-gritty of how their verse works. Anyone who loves poetry is going to come away from this book revitalized, prepared to think complexly about the modes of address that poets employ, as well as the kinds of writing that they habitually echo, distort, take apart, and reassemble.”

Brian M. Reed, University of Washington

“Jahan Ramazani is that rare critic who has read and understood a wide range of contemporary theory but is also a strong close reader, bringing his arguments alive through example. Poetry and Its Others is a capstone of the work he has done so far, combining his interests in genre, hybridity, and dialogism; his remarkably wide, global knowledge of modern poetry in English; and his commitment to poetry as a distinctive lens and language by which to encounter the world. This impressive and richly suggestive book moves through so many large areas of poetic dialogue and reciprocity with other forms that it will be important to poetry lovers both in and outside academia.”

Bonnie Costello, Boston University

"Like a poem, Ramazani’s book converses with us, and then quietly leaves us, so we can ponder the consequences on our own."

English Studies

Table of Contents


1 A Dialogic Poetics: Poetry and the Novel, Theory, and the Law
2 Poetry and the News
3 Poetry and Prayer
4 Poetry and Song


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