This book aims to expand our sense of poetry's reach and potential impact. It is an effort at recouping the poetic imperative buried within the first taxonomic description of human being: "nosce te ipsum," or "know yourself." Johanna Skibsrud explores both poetry and human being not as fixed categories but as active processes of self-reflection and considers the way that human being is constantly activated within and through language and thinking. By examining a range of modern and contemporary poets including Wallace Stevens, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Anne Carson, all with an interest in playfully disrupting sense and logic and eliciting unexpected connections, The Poetic Imperative highlights the relationship between the practice of writing and reading and a broad tradition of speculative thought. It also seeks to demonstrate that the imperative "know yourself" functions not only as a command to speak and listen, but also as a call to action and feeling. The book argues that poetic modes of knowing - though central to poetry understood as a genre - are also at the root of any conscious effort to move beyond the subjective limits of language and selfhood in the hopes of touching upon the unknown. Engaging and erudite, The Poetic Imperative is an invitation to direct our attention simultaneously to the finite and embodied limits of selfhood, as well as to what those limits touch: the infinite, the Other, and truth itself.
Johanna Skibsrud is a poet, novelist, and assistant professor of literature at the University of Arizona.
"The Poetic Imperative: A Speculative Aesthetics is short (under two hundred pages), but not slight; its chapters rattle through crucial debates in contemporary aesthetic theory and shoot out insights like so many sparks from wheels on a track along the way. If all of this leaves the reader occasionally short of critical breath, the intelligence, daring, and drive of each essay rewards rereading. Listen up!" Canadian Literature
"The Poetic Imperative is a beautifully written book that touches on some of the key debates in the study of poetry and poetics today. It presents an admirably diverse mix of poetry and critical sources and displays a virtuosic temporal and cultural range." Rachel Galvin, University of Chicago