Thick and Dazzling Darkness

Religious Poetry in a Secular Age

Peter O'Leary

Columbia University Press

Thick and Dazzling Darkness

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Pub Date: November 2017

ISBN: 9780231173308

240 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£49.95

Pub Date: November 2017

ISBN: 9780231545976

240 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $59.99£49.95

Thick and Dazzling Darkness

Religious Poetry in a Secular Age

Peter O'Leary

Columbia University Press

In Thick and Dazzling Darkness, Peter O’Leary offers a new reading of modern and contemporary poets’ treatment of religion and the nature of the divine in a secular age. The book seeks to come to terms with an often obscured spiritual impulse that drives the production and imagination of American poetry.

O’Leary presents close and comprehensive readings of the modernist, late-modernist, and postmodern poets Robinson Jeffers, Frank Samperi, and Robert Duncan, as well as the contemporary poets Joseph Donahue, Geoffrey Hill, Fanny Howe, Nathaniel Mackey, Pam Rehm, and Lissa Wolsak. He argues that an anxiety of misunderstanding exists in the study and writing of poetry between secular and religious impulses and that the religious nature of poets’ works is too often marginalized. Examining the works of a specific poet in each chapter, O’Leary reveals their complexity and offers a defense of the value and meaning of religious poetry against the grain of a secular society.
Thick and Dazzling Darkness undertakes the daunting task of exploring spirituality (qua poetry) in a way that connects such otherwise dissimilar poets as the self-consciously backward-looking Robinson Jeffers, the peculiarly American modernism of Robert Duncan, and the (at)tendent postmodernism of Fanny Howe and Nathaniel Mackey. O'Leary creates a conceptual fabric through which we can "read" this diverse group of poets—some well-served in scholarly circles, others rapidly falling off the American poetry radar. Given our cultural predicament as Americans, this work could not be more timely. G. C. Waldrep, Bucknell University
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age
1. A Mystical Theology of Angelic Despair: Writing Religious Poetry and the Trilogy of Frank Samperi
2. Robinson Jeffers, the Man from Whom God Hid Everything
3. Spiritual Osmosis: Absorbing the Influence in Geoffrey Hill’s Later Poetry
4. Prophetic Frustrations: Robert Duncan’s Tribunals
5. What Lies Beneath My Copy of Eternity? Religious Language in the Poetry of Lissa Wolsak
6. Catholics: Reading Fanny Howe
7. Robert Duncan’s Celestial Hierarchy
8. The Long Huthered Hajj: Nathaniel Mackey’s Esotericism
9. Apocalypticism: A Way Forward for Poetry
Conclusion: Why Not Be Totally Changed Into Fire?
Permissions
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Peter O’Leary is the author of Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan and the Poetry of Illness (2002), as well as several books of poetry, most recently The Sampo (2016), and the editor of a new edition of Ronald Johnson’s ARK (2014). He teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago.