Lewis Turco DAVID G. McLEAN - Essay

DAVID G. McLEAN

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Those who frequent the small world of the little poetry magazines know Lewis Turco as a champion of the classical virtues of form and craftsmanship. In a 1968 essay entitled "Defining the Poet," Turco wrote, "… a poet is an artificer of language, and … a poem is an artifice of language." For Turco, the poet is always primarily the artificer, the maker, not the seer.

This is an unpopular position to defend in light of today's strong neo-romanticism and also in light of America's [Emersonian] poetic tradition…. For Emerson, the poet is the visionary who mystically intuits truth and who then unself-consciously expresses this truth in the form which its inner nature dictates. But Turco, always suspicious of visionaries, attributes much of the inferior poetry of the present popular American poets to an easy and undisciplined adherence to that philosophy.

In The Inhabitant, Turco's latest collection of poems, the inhabitant, in a sense, represents the American poet caught in the classical vs. romantic crossfire. In "The Livingroom," he encounters what may be the visionary muse as it mystically appears as a singing skull. The inhabitant yearns to hear the singing of the skull; but he hears nothing, even though "he is a lover of song." He is tempted "to pretend that he has heard," but he rejects the subterfuge. It is only then that he hears the music. Thus his "inspiration" comes not from the vision but,...

(The entire section is 525 words.)