Robert Archambeau was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1968, but his family moved to Canada before his first birthday—a strange kind of homecoming, given that his ancestors were among the first settlers of Quebec. Never quite at home as a Canadian or American, he came to inhabit what he describes as “the world’s least interesting trans-national identity.” He has vivid memories of his parents, at the end of the Nixon administration, considering putting an “America: Love It or Leave It” bumper sticker on their car, next to the Canadian license plate. He attended the University of Manitoba, where his father, a ceramic artist, taught, and where he had a fraught relationship with the regionalist poetic movement then in fashion among the poets associated with the university. Later, looking for a poetry that was concerned with regional identity but that was also attracted to the remote, the arcane, and the displaced, he discovered the work of the American poet John Matthias, whose work and background were as English as they were American. Archambeau went to study under Matthias at the University of Notre Dame, where he wrote a doctoral dissertation on the appropriation of Wordsworth’s regionalist poetics by postcolonial writers, and where he accidentally blundered into an M.F.A. by hanging out in Matthias’ living room, where the writing seminars were conducted, and writing poems.
A few regionalist poems made it into Archambeau’s first collection of poems, Home and Variations, but what really came to fascinate him, as both poet and critic, were acts of creative appropriation and re-imagination. His chapbook Citation Suite consisted of a long poem composed only of quotations from various sources spliced into one another until they created a language of their own, and this pointed him in a direction his work was to follow. The present book and the chapbook Slight Return: Remix and Ekphrasis contain writing in this mode: an inhabiting and reworking of found text, generally literary in nature.
As a critic, Archambeau has been increasingly drawn to questions of the social position of poetry, of how it has functioned in different contexts. His first critical book, Laureates and Heretics: Six Careers in American Poetry, examined the reputations and career paths of six poets who studied at Stanford in the 1960s—including two, Robert Pinsky and Robert Hass, who went on to serve as poets laureate of the United States—with an eye toward understanding the intersection of aesthetic choices and poetic renown. A later study, The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, examines the question of the kinds of social conditions that make poetry popular or marginal. He has also edited several books, including Word Play Place: Essays on the Poetry of John Matthias and Letters of Blood and Other English Writings of Göran Printz-Påhson. He taught for a time at Lund University in Sweden and is now professor of English at Lake Forest College, where he teaches Romanticism, literary theory and, occasionally, creative writing.
Inventions of a Barbarous Age,
is available from MadHat Press.
Here, at last, is a book guaranteed not to improve your sex life. I suggest all copies be confiscated and burned.