Marjorie Perloff: On "Image of the Engine"

In a five-part poem called "Image of the Engine," that appears in The Materials of 1962, we find these lines:

Also he has set the world

In their hearts. From lumps, chunks.

I can think of no better description of Oppen's characteristic prosody, his way of proceeding through a given poetic structure. If Williams' is a metric of action, the creation of a field of force in which the presence of the moment is made manifest, Oppen's "discrete series" of lines remains disjunctive, discriminatory, abrupt--a movement of fits and starts, "From lumps, chunks." Ellipsis, riddle, radical condensation, abstraction, equivocal syntax, and the fragmentation of semantic units--all these pull against the coalescence of sound, often extremely delicate, and the hammering of words into the firm structure of the line. Oppen wants us to pause on every word, to try to understand how and why just these words could possibly coexist in the same text, so far removed are his "connections" from those of ordinary discourse. The text itself is thus called into question even as the poet "sets the world/In our hearts."


Title Marjorie Perloff: On "Image of the Engine" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Burton Hatlen Criticism Target George Oppen
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 25 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication "The Shape of the Lines"
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