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Literary Criticism Poetry

The Poetic Imperative

A Speculative Aesthetics

by (author) Johanna Skibsrud

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2020
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2020
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  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2020
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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.

About the author

Johanna Skibsrud is a novelist, poet and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arizona. Her debut novel, The Sentimentalists, was awarded the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, making her the youngest writer to win Canada's most prestigious literary prize. The book was subsequently shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Award and is currently translated into five languages. The New York Times Book Review describes her most recent novel, Quartet for the End of Time (Norton 2014) as a "haunting" exploration of "the complexity of human relationships and the myriad ways in which identity can be malleable." "It is exhilarating", writes the Washington Post, "to join a novelist working at these bracing heights." Johanna is also the author of two collections of short fiction: This Will Be Difficult to Explain (2011; shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award) and Tiger, Tiger (2018), a children's book, and three books of poetry. Her latest poetry collection, The Description of the World (2016), was the recipient of the 2017 Canadian Author's Association for Poetry and the 2017 Fred Cogswell Award. Johanna's poems and stories have been published in Zoetrope, Ecotone, and Glimmertrain Magazine, among numerous other journals. Her scholarly essays have appeared in, among other places, The Luminary, Excursions, Mosaic, TIES, and The Brock Review. A critical monograph titled The Poetic Imperative: A Speculative Aesthetics is forthcoming. A novel, Island, will also be published by Hamish Hamilton Canada in fall 2019.

Johanna Skibsrud's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"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

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