What kinds of pleasure do we take from writing and reading? What authority has the writer over a text? What are the limits of language's ability to communicate ideas and emotions? Moreover, what are the political limitations of these questions? The work of the French cultural critic and theorist Roland Barthes (1915-80) poses these questions, and has become influential in doing so, but the precise nature of that influence is often taken for granted. This is nowhere more true than in poetry, where Barthes' concerns about pleasure and origin are assumed to be relevant, but this has seldom been closely examined. This innovative study traces the engagement with Barthes by poets writing in English, beginning in the early 1970s with one of Barthes' earliest Anglophone poet readers, Scottish poet-theorist Veronica Forrest-Thomson (1947-75). It goes on to examine the American poets who published in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and other small but influential journals of the period, and other writers who engaged with Barthes later, considering his writings' relevance to love and grief and their treatment in poetry. Finally, it surveys those writers who rejected Barthes' theory, and explores why this was. The first study to bring Barthes and poetry into such close contact, this important book illuminates both subjects with a deep contemplation of Barthes' work and a range of experimental poetries.
Calum Gardner is Teaching Fellow in Drama and Poetry at the University of Leeds.