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Part of the book series: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics ((MPCC))


I assert that poetry offers the most persuasive and complex medium for exercising “enchantment,” focusing on the power of the poem as charm and of the poet as charming. I argue that there is a paradigmatic remastering and troubling of poetic vocation in the twentieth century, through revolutions in self-mythologising, whereby the lyric becomes a specular techne through which to negotiate the constitution of self and state at a time when the grand narratives of subject, nation, and community are quickly eroding.

Beginning with Orpheus, the book tracks the emergence of the figure of the poet in the West through Sappho (a poetics of intimacy), the troubadour tradition (poetics of coterie, visceral poetics, and public performance) to the ambivalent charisma of Byron as an exemplar of a modern kind of self-mythologiser. I then introduce three twentieth-century poets in a direct line of succession who take the troubadour techniques of making a self into overdrive.

Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan, and John Forbes are self-reflexive wranglers of personal mythologies, navigating what can be known of self-making by working at the psychic frontiers of what can be said. They each receive and return poetry as an improved revolutionary apparatus for modulating “self” and “nation” as mythic complexes, presenting myth as process rather than myth as archive. As part of their practice of self-mythologising, we see in the homage each received upon their untimely death how this myth is then worked by others, both through complementary textual production and the exchange of charmed articles and relics.

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  1. 1.

    Précis: “Eurydice, the bride of Orpheus, is fatally bitten by a snake; the singer, relying on the power of his art, descends to Hades to win her back, persuades the gods of the underworld to relinquish her, but loses her again when he disobeys their command not to look back. Renouncing women (and in one version turning to homosexual love), he is torn apart by a band of angry Maenads. The head and lyre, still singing, float down the Hebrus river to the island of Lesbos, where Apollo protects the head from a snake and endows it with prophetic power” (Segal 2).

  2. 2.

    As we shall see in Chap. 2, Oedipus Rex shows up as Frank O’Hara in his final draft constitution of self.

  3. 3.

    In pronouncing curses in the matter of love, the troubadours have an ancestor in Archilochus, a contemporary of Sappho’s and another of the first poets in the Western tradition to write personal lyrics.

  4. 4.

    The confusion of “presence” and “representation,” “text” and “body,” and “person” and “art” will always be a productive quandary. Jaeger’s work demonstrates that deciding upon a superior term is only ever a temporary achievement of rhetoric and that the relational dialectic cannot be brought to heel.

  5. 5.

    In describing the cultural metamorphosis of myths of poet, Boym’s focus on Rimbaud and Mayakovsky is apposite for the current study, as both figures loom large in the personal mythology of Frank O’Hara, as technical virtuosos and charismatic beings of literature. Figuring for him an admirable confusion of life and art, he takes them as spurs for revolutionary practices of poiesis and for contemporarily recasting the figure of the poet. These are the daemons of poets that he lives with.

  6. 6.

    Jorge Luis Borges in an interview with Daniel Bourne and Stephen Cape, April 25, 1980. Artful Dodge.

  7. 7.

    Shaw is the first to critique O’Hara’s sociality (with the living and the dead) as part of a total poetic practice, through his museum curatorship and art writing, to his collaborations and correspondences, in a way that makes the life not extraneous to the work.

  8. 8.

    See Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings for a thoroughgoing treatment of the darker spectrum of affective states.

  9. 9.

    Stephen Guy-Bray cites Barthes’ notion of erotic reading (frisson/jouissance) in The Pleasure of the Text alongside the polymorphous textuality of O’Hara’s “Personism” and its queer configuration of poet/poem/reader as “Lucky Pierre Style.”

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Hose, D. (2022). Introduction: Prick’d by Charm. In: The Pursuit of Myth in the Poetry of Frank O'Hara, Ted Berrigan and John Forbes. Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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