"A Need for Voices": The Poetry of Dennis Haskell

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This article presents a critical reading of the poetry of Dennis Haskell. Inspired by the experience of hearing the poet read, it uses the concept of poetic voice as an entry point for critical analysis. Haskell has described his poetic aim as being to “write a poetry that incorporates ideas but never ostentatiously … with as quiet as possible verbal skill, and in a way that evokes the deepest emotions” (Landbridge). The paper identifies key aspects of voice in the poetry, drawing on arguments by Robert Pinsky and Al Alvarez that voice implies a reaching out to an auditor or reader, and thus has social and cultural dimensions. Attending to both technique and meaning, it first analyses two short lyric poems by Haskell, “One Clear Call” and “The Call,” which explore the power of voice in poetic and pre-linguistic settings respectively. Poetic voice becomes a vehicle of social critique in “Australian Language’s Tribute to the Times,” a bemused satire on the clichéd language of modern politics and economics. In the next section of the paper the focus shifts to his recurrent creative interest in poems of international travel and in particular international flight. The experience of flying is the subject of lucid, practical philosophical reflections in “GA873: The Meaning of Meaning” and “Reality’s Conquests,” while in “As You Are, As We Are” and “Our Century,” Haskell presents vivid intercultural encounters in a voice that is candid, observant and responsive to others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-18
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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