The poet Mark Scroggins has long been known as a leading authority on Louis Zukofsky, a prolific reviewer and critic, and the author of a series of authoritative essays on the history of twentieth-century poetry. The Mathematical Sublime presents a selection of Scroggins’s reviews, short essays, and blog posts about a dazzling variety of poets, poems, and poetry criticism: from Andrew Marvell to Rae Armantrout, Beowulf to Ronald Johnson, from the high modernists to Language Poetry and the contemporary avant-garde.
Scroggins explores the varieties of poetic form, the interplay of the personal and the political in poets’ and critics’ rhetoric, the role of race and gender in the writing and reception of poetry, and the sometimes maddening squabbles that make up the poetry “scene.” Along the way he writes about “hauntology” in popular music, occultism among the modernists, the relationship of poem-making and gardening, and his own sense of almost-paralyzed awe at the rich and overwhelming plenitude of poetry that has been written over the past century. In Robert Archambeau’s words, “Fluent, honest, and undeceivable, Mark Scroggins is just what a critic ought to be.”
What makes the fugitive reviews and informal essays collected in The Mathematical Sublime so remarkable is that their author is unpredictably brilliant and persuasive about such a wide-ranging and seemingly eclectic body of work. What other critic could move so readily between Language Poetry and the New Formalism, between anthologies of contemporary secular Jewish poetry and the theological niceties of Geoffrey Hill, between Robert Sheppard’s Twentieth Century Blues and Susan Howe’s “hauntologies”? … You never quite know which poetries or critical studies he will like, but he is always persuasive in making his case for them…. It’s an electrifying performance!
Here is a guide you can trust, a guide who will introduce—inter alia— Jewish American poetry and poetics, the Objectivist line (where will it lead?), the Ruskin line (where will it lead?), and other poetic reactions to “the whole bloody mess of contemporary culture”…. Here, too, are arguments that convinced, or converted me: … What has happened—on its way back and forth across the Atlantic—to that late-modernist project, the apparently unfinishable serial poem? … what to read next, from the Anglophone post-avant ranks, and perhaps far beyond them? I’m happy to have Scroggins make each case.