Defending Poetry: Art and Ethics in Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, and Geoffrey Hill

OUP Oxford (2010)
Abstract
Defending Poetry studies the tradition of poetic defence, or apologia, as it has been pursued and developed by three of the twentieth century's leading poet-critics: Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, and Geoffrey Hill. It begins with an extended introduction to philosophical debates over the ethical value of literature from Plato to Levinas and continues by situating these three poets as in one sense historically continuous with the defences of Horace, Sidney, Coleridge, and Shelley, but also as drastically other. This otherness is bounded on one side by the example of T. S. Eliot's career-long contemplation of the ideal of poetic 'integrity', and on the other by a collective recognition of the twentieth century's great horrors, which seem to corrode all associations of art and the good. Through close readings of the poems and prose essays of Brodsky, Heaney, and Hill, Defending Poetry makes a timely intervention in current debates about literature's ethics, arguing that any ethics of literature ought to take into account not only poetry, but also the writings of poets on the value of poetry.
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