Oppen, George 1908–
Oppen, an American poet, operated the Objectivist Press with Louis Zukofsky in the 1920s. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for Of Being Numerous. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)
[In older American poets the reader expects to find mature wisdom.] George Oppen's This in Which rewards the expectation. His collection is one in which we find the understanding that how something is seen and felt comes much before how something is formally perfected into poetry. Oppen is concerned with "the arduous path of appearance," with avoiding the iambic line, and most of all with strict honesty. (pp. 273-74)
Oppen asks …: How can the poet communicate a realization of the concrete object as object without drawing the reader's attention to the way in which he communicates? How can we avoid the confusion of gesture and object? How can we focus the attention directly upon the apple without the reader thinking the hand is just as important as the apple?…
Oppen is not as inventive as Miss Wakoski or Robert Sward, but that is not his purpose. The inventiveness came before these poems, is an accepted fact, and the lines are handled with spontaneous confidence. (p. 274)
Dick Allen, in The Antioch Review (copyright © 1966 by The Antioch Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the editors), Vol. 26, No. 2, 1966.
In Oppen's work, the assertion of immediacy is made the excuse for a number of deficiencies. There is little in the way of connection present [in This in Which], though the suggestion of connection is continually present. Sentences are set up in which a complicated syntactical relationship is predicated, but in which a different and simple relationship takes place. The sense of shifting relationship shows in this passage:
Van Gogh went hungry and what shoe salesman
Does not envy him now? Let us agree
Once and for all that neither the slums
Nor the tract houses
Represent the apex
Of the culture.
I may indeed agree with Oppen's conclusion, but hardly with his assumption that he has proved it true in his statement about Van Gogh and shoe salesmen. Is that statement in fact true? Is it useful? The relationship looks as if it should be a supported argument, when in fact it is more of an accidental collision of objects. Such collisions seem to me to make up a very large part of Oppen's work.
Oppen … asserts things as if they were relationships, as if their slightest juxtaposition necessarily conveys meaning. (p. 151)
William Dickey, "The Thing Itself," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1966 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XIX, No. 1, 1966, pp. 146-55.
George Oppen is one poet who is at home in the world. I don't mean that he is always comfortable in it, or that he doesn't have grave misgivings about some of the foundations of his house, but rather that he does know his way around in it, and that he means to keep his tenure uncluttered and authoritative. It is refreshing to read him on just these grounds. I don't mean to quarrel with any who have tried this sort of engagement, and have come away with a sense of disillusionment. It depends upon what is individually important to a man. But there are many who have been convinced sight unseen that the world is a hopeless case, and that slum clearance is the only way to begin to rectify matters. Unfortunately the matter usually ends there, and then the whimpering begins. But Oppen is no malingerer, and he avoids the equally narrow view of others who find one thing which they feel can be affirmed safely, and then close all other doors. He lives here, and he makes his presence felt. His stature as a poet has been achieved through a relatively small output over a great number of years. Evidently he feels that he should speak only when he has something to say, This is no great thing in...
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