What Good Is a Poem?: Reading Laura Riding’s Renunciation

by David Alejandro Hernandez

Abstract:
An author from the modernist era, Laura Riding renounced poetry after two decades of prolific production and spent the latter half of her life working through formulations of her wholesale condemnation of the art of poetry, including provocatively titled treatments such as “The Failure of Poetry” and “Truth Begins Where Poetry Ends.” This paper proposes to bring out the features and terms of her renunciation in association with problems of epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics from a small segment of the history of thought. This task itself is in the interest of valorizing, against the grain, Laura Riding’s renunciation and giving it its due as a courageous act of authorial self-invention. My conviction is that the challenge posed by Riding’s renunciation, considered both as a set of aesthetic critiques and as an act, has yet to be fully confronted by exponents of poetry’s immanent capacity for truth: poets, critics, and readers alike.

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Author’s bio:
David Alejandro Hernandez is a writer and a PhD student in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He holds a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.F.A. from Washington University in Saint Louis, where he also served as the 2018-2019 Senior Fellow in Poetry. His creative work has appeared in print literary journals such as FenceOversound, and the Berkeley Poetry Review, among others; and online for Burning House PressApartment PoetryDIALOGISTOmniVerse, and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s 100 Boots Poetry Series. David’s current research focuses broadly on issues in aesthetics, hermeneutics, and the history of philosophy.

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