Peter Nicholls on George Oppen

Here are two points on Oppen’s poetry that have made a significant impact on how I think about my own work.

On the multiplicity of voices that speak in a single poem:

“Quotations are everywhere in Oppen’s poetry, especially in his later work, where he began to distinguish them by using italics rather than quotation marks, thus marking them not as speech but as another layer of text. Increasingly, the incorporation of ‘foreign’ materials does not point outside the poem, but functions rather to disrupt any sense of unified poetic ‘voice’ even though sources are often obscured.”

On poetry as a form.of knowing:

“The poet may recall a past experience, then, but that experience is fundamentally recast, perhaps so as to be almost unrecognisable, when caught up in the force-field of present perception. We are dealing not with a situation in which a given subject appropriates something other as an object of knowledge, but rather one in which (as for Heidegger) thinking and being are somehow elided. In this sense, the poetic imagination intuits rather than knows…”

From “George Oppen and the Poetics of Quotation” by Peter Nicholls