Flood (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
Several years ago (in the American Scholar, Summer, 1978), Paul Breslin delivered a powerful attack on a group of poets, including William Matthews, whom he called “the new surrealists.” In Breslin’s view, these poets are imprisoned in a rigidly Jungian view of the poem as an interior journey, by a Jungian predisposition to refer poetic symbols to archetypes prior to the context of a particular poem and to the personal history of a particular poet, and by a stock poetic diction. Breslin’s lexicon of the new poetic diction should sound distressingly familiar to inveterate readers of contemporary American poetry; words such as stones, silence, water, light, absence, sleep, and darkness are the stock of much of the going trade. The favorite word of these poets is stone; for stone, Breslin argues, is a symbol of the collective unconscious. Breslin’s new surrealists reject, implicitly, the ego of Freudian psychology, and participate in a solipsistic, dehumanizing irrationalism, treating the unconscious as a mysterious god.
Although Breslin’s essay is brilliant and challenging, many of his generalizations will not stand up when applied to the work of the poets he censures. Such is certainly the case with William Matthews. Matthews’ poems from the first have been uncommonly good; since Broken...
(The entire section is 1615 words.)
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