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That Self-Forgetful Perfectly Useless Concentration

More than a gathering of essays, That Self-Forgetful Perfectly Useless Concentration is part memoir, part literary criticism, and an artful fusion of the two. It is an intimate portrait of a life in poetry that only Alan Shapiro could have written.

In this book, Shapiro brings his characteristic warmth, humor, and many years as both poet and teacher to bear on questions surrounding two preoccupations: the role of conventions—of literary and social norms—in how we fashion our identities on and off the page, and how suffering both requires and resists self-expression. He sketches affectionate portraits of his early teachers, revisits the deaths of his brother and sister, and examines poems that have helped him navigate troubled times. Integrating storytelling and literary analysis so seamlessly that art and life become extensions of each other, Shapiro embodies in his lively prose the very qualities he celebrates in the poems he loves.

Brimming with wit and insight, this is a book for poets, students and scholars of poetry, teachers of literature, and everyone who cares about the literary arts and how they illuminate our personal and public lives.

192 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2016

Biography and Letters

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature


“Philip Larkin said, ‘Writing poems should be a pleasure. So should reading them, by God!’ As should essays about poetry, which almost never are. But Alan Shapiro’s are. Smart, funny, earnest, erudite, dexterous, and down to earth, they both teach and delight in connecting the highest arts of poetry to the basics of lived life.”

Michael Ryan, author of This Morning

Table of Contents

Convention and Self-Expression
Mark Twain and the Creative Ambiguities of Expertise
My Tears See More Than My Eyes
Translation as “Linguistic Hospitality”
Some Questions Concerning Art and Suffering
Technique of Empathy: Free Indirect Style
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Decorum
Convention and Mysticism: Dickinson, Hardy, Williams
Why Write?

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