Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 November 2020
This chapter reroutes Wordsworth’s description of poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility” so as to consider a poem’s recollective potential from another angle. How might poems recollect both the past and their own historical moments? One of the most crucial activities that poets undertake is that of remembrance and memorialization, and part of this chapter focuses on forms of contemporary elegy. For a great many poets across the aesthetic spectrum, “recollection” isn’t primarily concerned with personal emotion or feeling, but rather with an attempt to account for past and present, often intertwining acts of personal memory and public history. Such poems aren’t simply “about” historical topics or reflections on the past. They also provide an alternate way of sifting, gathering, constellating, and presenting the materials of the past, not as stylized historiography but as a mode of counterhistorical writing. This chapter examines poetry’s abilities to recollect, as both a compositional spur and as a set of readerly affordances. It suggests the ways in which the notion of recollection might be expanded well beyond its Wordsworthian remit. Practices of recollection are vital both to the composition and reception of poetry, and in several ways this chapter cinches the concerns of the previous three. It focuses on texts by Denise Riley, Mary Jo Bang, Geoffrey Hill, Rita Dove, Caroline Bergvall, Natalie Harkin, and M. NourbeSe Philip.