Whitman, Melville, Crane, and the Labors of American Poetry

Against Vocation

Peter Riley,

Whitman, Melville, Crane, and the Labors of American Poetry: Against Vocation
In Whitman, Melville, Crane, and the Labors of American Poetry, Peter Riley confronts our enduring and problematic investment in poetic vocation—a myth, he argues, that continues to inform how all our multifarious labors are understood, valued, and exploited. The book seeks to challenge a dominant cultural logic that frames contingent, non-vocational labor as a necessary sacrifice that frustrates the righteous progress towards realizing that seeminglypurest of callings: Poet.Incorporating the often overlooked or excluded workaday ephemera of three canonical US Romantic poets—Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Hart Crane—this volume offers new archival insights that call for a re-examination of celebrated literary careers and disputes their status as renowned or tragic icons of creative vocation. The poetry of Whitman the real estate dealer, Melville the customs inspector, and Crane the copywriter, Riley contends, does not constitute the formal inscription of anantagonistic or discreet poetic labor struggling against quotidian work towards the fulfilment of exceptional individual callings. Instead, the distracted forms of their poetry are always already intermingled with a variety of apparently lesser labors. Ousting poetic production from its defaultsanctuary of privileged exemption or transcendent repose, the volume refigures the work of the poet as a living sensuous activity that transgresses labor's various divisions and hierarchies. It consequently recasts the poet as a figure who actually unfastens the 'right of passage' vocational logic that does so much to secure and reproduce the current neoliberal paradigm.

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