Mar 21

The "Otherness" of Poetry

Sundays are when I usually do the bulk of my homework (my work schedule has been too crazy lately to let me do much of it during the week). We’re reading about George Oppen (among others) right now and I’m struck by the following comment in his biographical introduction:

“Oppen’s poetry presents a mind in stark encounter with the world. ‘That they are there!’ he exclaims of the deer seen in the poem ‘Psalm.’ Careful not to enshroud the deer with sentiment or dogma, the awed poet tries to see them in their thereness, in what Heidegger calls the sheer “presence of the thing’: their ‘alien small teeth / Tear at the grass.’ To see the world in its fresh appearance, its stubborn otherness, its physicality, requires arduous effort.” (Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Volume 1:  Modern Poetry, page 833)

Present their “thereness”?

See the world in its “otherness”?


This is probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve read something like this in the last nine weeks. Thomas Hardy and Gerard Hopkins are specific examples I can think of off the top of my head, but I know there has been at least one other introduction or supplemental document in the form of treatises or essays that make similar statements.

The concept is not without merit. It the case of Hardy and Hopkins, the idea that a poet could somehow capture the “truth” of the world around them and present it for the reader in a way they may never appreciate on their own had direct, and obvious, effects on their writing styles, but I have to wonder how much of this is grandiose dogma put forth to engineer depth from simple subjects.

Is intellectual complexity and “depth” (real or invented) really what makes a poem worthwhile?

When words are strung together with grace and skill they sing with a power that makes the tongue dance in speaking, the ears ring in hearing, and the heart thrum in sympathy.

Isn’t that enough?

Why does a poem have to be intellectually obtuse like The Wasteland or serve some self-proclaimed academic purpose to be worth studying?


  1. Sarah

    i AM CURRENTLY STUDYING A COURSE in Galway Ireland called Poetry and OTHERNESS!?!?!?!

    1. thegoblin

      “Otherness” is actually in the course name? Wow. I have to wonder, what, exactly, qualifies as otherness as a subject of study?

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