Poetry & Ethics: Writing About Others

Natasha Sajé | December 2009

Natasha Saje


The effect of literature on its readers is never easy to trace. Is the representation of evil itself evil, or can the representation create an understanding of evil and thus an aversion to it? The debate is as old as Plato and Aristotle...

Any gathering of writers usually hosts a lively debate about whose work is good, bad, overvalued, etc. These judgments are mostly aesthetic, as I have argued elsewhere, with "quality" denoting formal complexity or experimentation and linguistic texture. It is less common for poets to debate the ethics of a poem, although in one example, Carolyn Forché's poem "The Colonel,"1 the speaker visits an El Salvadoran colonel who shows her the dried ears of his victims, and that poem created controversy: Some readers argue that Forché's "witnessing" was necessary to make the world cognizant of the atrocity, while others argue that the speaker exploits the cruelty described while being protected from it. The ethics of fiction have been studied in depth by Wayne Booth (The Company We Keep) and Martha Nussbaum (Love's Knowledge).2 In poetry, Helen Vendler has treated the increased intimacy and ethical issues that arise when a poet writes to another entity—God in the case of George Herbert, future readers for Walt Whitman, and historical figures for John Ashbery3—and Robert Langbaum has studied the dramatic monologue, in which a poet speaks through other people4; in what follows, I examine poems in which the poet writes about other people. Transactions between writer and reader are like transactions with real people, and that is why they matter. Moreover, because of poetry's intimacy—the readers of a poem are simultaneously addressee and speaker—I believe that some poems about others create an ethical disjunction for their readers.

Ethics is the systematic endeavor to understand moral concepts and justify moral theories and principles. Concerned with what "ought to be," ethics seeks to effect change. I discuss, here, the ethical principles raised by poems about human beings that are not personae of the poet. The subject deserves a more complex treatment than what follows, yet I am compelled to at least begin a discussion. In one sense, poetry itself is an exercise in othering, in trying to understand something or someone foreign from oneself. How poets achieve that othering, that is, their avenues or methods concerns me here. My examples are not meant as a proscription against writing about other human beings; on the contrary, extending one's vision beyond the self is important to good writing. Poetry should expand our sense of what it means to be human.

The ethics of literature involve nothing less than changing oneself and the world. Wayne Booth argues that the ethics of narrative (he includes poems in his definition of narrative, but doesn't use them as examples) are reciprocal, and he includes not only deliberate lies or debased vision, but the effects on the tellers themselves.5 In other words, the writer of unethical literature feels its effects along with the reader. Booth also argues that ethics is central to any discussion of literature, and that writers have always been concerned with their effects on readers as well as on themselves. Keats, for example, in addition to his famous parallel of beauty and truth, worries about poems that have "too palpable a design" on their readers. Matthew Arnold writes, "the right function of poetry is to animate, to console, to rejoice—in one word, to strengthen. This function modern poetry seldom fulfills. It has thought, fancy, ingenuity; it often makes us admire the author's powers, sometimes interests us, sometimes instructs us, occasionally puzzles us, but in general leaves our poor humanity as rueful and broken-backed, to say the very least, as it found it."6 Since the 19th century, the subject of ethics and literature has been relatively neglected because of the separation of aesthetics and morality. The idea that art should be evaluated only in formal terms, a notion that found fruition in the fin de siècle "art for art's sake" movement, lingers. In 1924, I.A. Richards notes, "morals have often been treated, especially in recent times, as a side-issue for criticism, from which the special concern of the critic must be carefully separated."7 Yet, Wayne Booth shows that even—especially—Oscar Wilde's claims for the amorality of art show a hyperawareness of the effects of art on readers and viewers, itself a highly ethical stance.

The effect of literature on its readers is never easy to trace. Is the representation of evil itself evil, or can the representation create an understanding of evil and thus an aversion to it? The debate is as old as Plato and Aristotle, with Plato arguing that mimesis undermines human stability, and Aristotle arguing that it can be an agent of learning. One can't assume a direct line between the representation and the reader's action; that is, reading a book about murder doesn't make the reader commit one. Moreover, a distinction should be drawn between children and adults: children might imitate what they see without questioning; most adults will not. Yet, of course, what we absorb does affect us, albeit in ways difficult to trace. In my particular concern with a poet's representation of human beings, I have found Kant's "Formula of the End in Itself" useful: "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end."8 Treating a person as an end as well as a means requires seeing the effects of one's behavior on that person. It is okay to use people when they consent to being used, as for example through their jobs, but not when they cannot consent, as when they are deceived or when they are unaware, which is the case in poems. The reader senses the unethical use, regardless of whether the person described is real, living, dead, or imaginary, and this reaction contributes to the poem's success or failure. My argument is similar to that of Berys Gaut, who believes that "manifesting ethically admirable attitudes counts towards the aesthetic merit of a work, and manifesting ethically reprehensible attitudes counts against its aesthetic merit."9 I believe an "ethically admirable attitude" (not using other people to make a poem) contributes to a poem's success because it forces the poet to delve more deeply into the problems raised. In other words, a poet's attitude toward a human subject includes knowledge and the push to a new insight. An "ethically admirable attitude" is not necessarily a positive attitude; indeed, as I shall show, whether the speaker is approving or disapproving of the subject has nothing to do with the poem's success. Moreover, all writing begins in ignorance and separation; the writer is trying to know someone else, trying to understand someone else's point of view through the act of writing. My point is that the finished poem's success can be measured by the thoroughness of the poet's understanding, or sometimes the admission of failure.

Sometimes, the reader of a poem is addressed directly, as "you." More often, the reader becomes a ventriloquist, inhabiting the point of view and consciousness of the speaker of the poem. This process of ventriloquism can be thrilling, calming, angering—but it is above all mind-expanding, which is why we read poems in the first place. As Octavio Paz says, "between revolution and religion, poetry is the other voice...All poets...hear the other voice. It is their own, someone else's, no one else's, no one's and everyone's. Nothing distinguishes a poet from other men and women but those moments—rare yet frequent—in which, being themselves, they are other."10 Some postmodern poetry questions the possibility of anyone controlling language and making it coherent; in other words, individual subjectivity is disintegrated, making it impossible to talk about "characters," or even "the other voice." In the poems I examine, however, the poet creates a recognizable individual character (or group of characters) and/or a coherent consciousness through which to speak.

Ethical difficulty arises when poets write about subjects superficially. Poets must know their subjects better than their best readers. They must know what they don't know, and they should not assume that their having lived through an experience or having seen it means that they know it well enough to say something new. Many travel poems are diminished by superficial knowledge, as when the poet presumes that "being there" lends automatic authority to the insight, and that his or her seeing something for the first time means that it's a new sight to everyone else. When the subject is a human being, the resulting poem may be ethically flawed.

Of the four modes of poetry—story, song, argument, and description—description creates the most ethical pitfalls, in part because the poet often neglects to make clear his or her stake in what—or who—is being described. Readers ask, why is this important? Description can range from bland to vicious, depending on the tone—on the poet and/or speaker's attitude toward the subject. The challenge in any description is to push what is observed into a realm of deeper meaning; whether this is achieved is something we should always ask. Of course, leaving the reader saying, "So what?" is not itself an ethical lapse.

Ethical difficulty arises when poets write about subjects superficially. Poets must know their subjects better than their best readers. They must know what they don't know, and they should not assume that their having lived through an experience or having seen it means that they know it well enough to say something new.

When the stakes are higher, the pit is deeper. September 11 provides ample opportunity for poets to diminish their ethical standing by generalizing. Again, like the experience of being in a foreign country and noting sights, some poets who observed the devastation (either in person or through media) felt that describing it, culminating in an insight about terror, pain, or destruction, justifies their poems. I have a file of poems replete with images of burning towers, people falling or jumping out of them, fiery planes, and smoke- and paper-filled streets. Most of these poems are unsatisfying because they merely repeat cliches; moreover, I find many ethically repugnant because of the ease with which they presume to describe the pain of others. The poet is making art out of others' suffering without any risk or consequence to himself or herself. As Susan Sontag says, "No 'we' should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people's pain"; "what matters precisely is who is killed and by whom."11 By glibly generalizing what should be an individual memory, these poems fail morally and aesthetically. "It is intolerable to have one's own suffering twinned with anybody else's,"12 notes Sontag, a presumption that mars many 9-11 poems. Living in New York or being in the towers does not guarantee a good 9-11 poem, neither does having a relative who died, nor being Arab-American. Sontag writes, "a narrative seems likely to be more effective (in conveying pain) than an image. Partly it is a question of the length of time one is obliged to look, to feel."13 Sometimes the 9-11 poems fail because their treatment is too glancing: the poet hasn't gone far enough to understand his or her true subject and reveal something new about it.

Wislawa Szymborska's poem "Photograph from September 11" (translated by Clare Cavanaugh) acknowledges the speaker's inability to describe and, in my mind, is successful.14 She begins with a common image to such poems, "They jumped from the burning floors—" but then immediately reminds us that she is only looking at a photograph. She tells us that "Each is complete/with a particular face/and blood well-hidden," and ends by saying, "I can do only two things for them—/describe this flight//and not add a last line."

Not adding a last line (although, of course, she does: "and not add a last line") indicates Szymborska's understanding of her inadequacy, of art's inadequacy in the face of horror. She notes "the particular face(s)" she does not have access to. Even the title acknowledges her limited access and understanding. She does not presume to speak from authority. While she does imagine the flight, the poem is ultimately about the speaker's own inability to describe it fully. It is her stance of unknowing that permits her to repeat familiar images.

When poets write about themselves (in first or third person or via persona), the distance between speaker and subject is narrow, and an authority frees the poet to explore the negative as well as positive aspects of behavior and character. When the subject is another human being (or group), particularly one different from the speaker's own, distance and attitude are problematic, raising the questions, "Why is this poet choosing this voice or subject matter?" "What new knowledge does the poet have about this person or group?" And sometimes, "Should the poet 'allow' the person to speak for himself or herself?" Yet the use of a dramatic monologue alone does not guarantee a successful poem; even then, the poet must work to do justice to the subject. Put simply, the poet may not "use" other human beings, the poetic equivalent of pointing.

Pedestrian language abounds in poems, but when one is trying to do justice to someone else's story, the aesthetic trouble is compounded by ethical issues. When the subject is a marginalized group, the issue of appropriation arises. Leslie Marmon Silko writes, "The reason there is so much strong feeling about non-Indian writers writing about Indian subjects is because good Indian writers don't get published and bad white writers do." Yet Silko would not deny the right of white writers to treat Indian subjects; in fact, she praises William Heyen's Crazy Horse in Stillness as "brilliant."15 Does it matter that Heyen himself is not Indian? No. What matters is learning all one can about a subject, getting the details right, and honoring individual human voices.

When humans are treated as objects, in poems as in life, they are not accorded respect as complex and multifaceted beings. When the poet writes about other people from a third person point of view (usually, but not always, conflated with the poet's persona), it is easy to objectify. Objectifying a human being means regarding that person as an object, for instance by paying attention only to certain body parts, something feminist scholars raised awareness of by pointing to treatments of women that reduced them, for example, to "big tits" or "a nice ass." William Carlos Williams was renowned for describing the lives of his working class patients, and his poem "Proletarian Portrait"16 announces from its very title that the speaker is from a different class than the subject. Readers can debate whether the portrait humanizes or objectifies its subject, whether it is successful in its brevity. The woman is described through how she looks (big, young, bareheaded, in an apron, hair slicked back, standing) and what she does (toe the sidewalk, hold her shoe in her hand, look into it, pull out the paper insole, find the nail). The only movement inside the woman's consciousness is the last line, when she finds the nail "that has been hurting her." Williams assumes she would look for a nail that causes discomfort. Williams's poem provides a snapshot, yet I would argue that the best poems do more than that, and that the brevity here results in the objectification—or at least animalization—of the woman: she might as well be a horse with a stone in its shoe. Williams no doubt knew the risk he was taking, as signaled in the title, and the portrait might be said to be sympathetic (poor people don't have well-insulated shoes), but ultimately it is so confined to its images that it deprives us of a chance to understand what it's like to be "proletarian." The notion that in this one action—pulling a nail from a shoe—one can draw a portrait troubles me. The woman is restricted to the parameters of her physical self; like a "dumb" animal, she reacts to pain.

In Mary Jo Salter's "Boulevard du Montparnasse,"17 the speaker observes a young couple kissing, "each the single most beautiful thing in the world." Salter describes

their skin (as) the same shade of black: like a shiny Steinway.
And they stood there like the four-legged instrument
of a passion so grand one could barely imagine them
ever working, or eating, or reading a magazine

The tone of the poem is admiring and positive. The couple inspires the poet and gives her the hope that human beauty can transcend "the brutishness of time." Yet the description is problematic: the couple is compared to a piano. Every element of the description is physical; even the girl's laughter is described physically, as "tiny feet." The couple seems to exist to the poet only as a "beautiful thing," and the ending insight that love can withstand time ("if either one should love another,/a greater beauty shall not be the cause") is also based on physical beauty rather than character. Salter's noting that the couple has black skin tells us the point of view is white. If the poem made no mention of skin color, and did not describe the couple by comparing them to things, would it be less problematic? Yes, I think so, and such a revision might ask the poet to delve more deeply into the issues of love and beauty. For example, how do people fall in love "at first sight," and what does this mean? At what point does character matter more than looks? Why does "young love" often not last? The connection of love to physical appearance is a topic worthy of deeper exploration. By contrast, Sharon Olds's poem "On the Subway"18 features a speaker in a fur coat contemplating a young black man whom she describes as having "the cold look of a mugger." I believe that this poem succeeds because it delves—within only thirty-four lines—into historical racial inequities. The description is charged with self-awareness, with an understanding of the speaker's relationship to the man being described.

Another debatable poem is Philip Larkin's "Faith Healing,"19 which describes a minister's attempts to heal his female congregants: "Their heads are clasped abruptly; then exiled/Like losing thoughts, they go in silence..." The speaker in "Faith Healing" is an outsider observing a ritual in which he has no stake. He can be ironic about the "twenty seconds" the believers spend in the hands of the minister; the speaker observes them without sympathy for their vulnerability. The women are described as "moustached" and are broken into body parts: tongues and eyes that "squeeze grief." In other words, the speaker doesn't recognize the individuality of the women he observes; his noting that the preacher's voice is "American" signals his status as "not American." However, I think the last stanza of the poem saves it (pun intended) ethically, because there the poet seems to recognize what he is doing and he makes himself vulnerable. Suddenly he includes himself in the longing. The following lines are the speaker's admission that he, too, would like to be healed of a psychic wound: the wound of not being loved:

...In everyone there sleeps
a sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make
by loving others, but across most it sweeps
as all they might have done had they been loved.
That nothing cures....

Other readers may not find this admission convincing, long enough, or deep enough; they may feel that Larkin is not aware of his objectifying and that the poem fails to give the women human dignity.

Yet another poem that presents a similar problem—also one about which readers may disagree—is Elizabeth Bishop's "Filling Station," excerpted below:20

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil soaked, oil permeated

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it's a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of a set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

Like Larkin's poem, "Filling Station" begins with description—the speaker is a visitor who notices the dirt and the incongruous plant, taboret, and doily amid the squalor. Moreover, like Larkin, Bishop's speaker lumps the family employees together without recognizing their individuality, indeed she sees them mostly through the objects they live with. However, in the last stanza, the poem may be said to earn its right to describe by admitting the speaker's stake in the description, by making her vulnerable. Throughout, the ironic tone also lets us know that the speaker is aware of her judgment—that she is treading on dangerous ground by observing so mercilessly. Yet, in the last stanza, she seems to appreciate the gestures of gentility in the gas station, and the last line, "Somebody loves us all," resounds, like Larkin's last line, in the heart of the speaker. That even such a place harbors love and pride suggests the speaker, too, may be "saved" by love. Her admission that she needs it-like the plant and the automobiles—justifies her "use" of the filling station's workers. Or not. Readers may disagree. In fact, every time I read this poem I feel differently about it.

Some ethical problems in the relationship between speaker and subject arise when the poet is dishonest. There are gradations of dishonesty, of course, but at its root, lying to others sets up an exploitive relationship. To lie does wrong to men (sic) in general, says Kant, because language is our common property. One form of lying is generalizing, says Yi-Fuan Tuan.21 Another is using a false subject as a front for a poem. The real or true subject tends to be something that costs the speaker something to realize or state; the false subject is easy.

Pedestrian language abounds in poems, but when one is trying to do justice to someone else's story, the aesthetic trouble is compounded by ethical issues. When the subject is a marginalized group, the issue of appropriation arises.

In James Dickey's "Slave Quarters," the white male speaker tours a southern plantation's slave quarters.22 He imagines himself a slave owner who has sex with one of his slaves and produces a son. Spurred by the narrator's curiosity about this situation, the poem ends:

What happens when the sun goes down

And the white man's loins still stir
In a house of air still draw him toward
Slave quarters?
When you learned that there is no hatred
Like love in the eyes
Of a wholly owned face? When you think of what
It would be like what it has been
What it is to look once a day
Into an only
Son's brown, waiting, wholly possessed
Amazing eyes, and not
Acknowledge, but own?

The poem employs plenty of stereotypes (in parts of the poem not included in this excerpt) about black men, for instance by imagining the son a heavyweight champion, waiter, parking attendant, and road worker, but it doesn't presume to know how the son feels. Instead, it stays in the mind of the speaker and reflects his curiosity about his own hypothetical situation as slave owner. Perhaps that preserves the speaker's integrity, because even in 1967, Dickey must have known that admitting to such a thought was an unflattering reflection of himself. Ultimately, the narrator's focus is on his own reaction. The poem makes no attempt to get inside the heads of slaves, or the son, or to give them a voice, but it also reaches a fresh (at least to the speaker) conclusion about the situation—"not / Acknowledge, but own"—suggesting the poet is considering something that never occurred to him before. The insight that a human being may "own" another, and that this ownership results in a transcending hatred, shocks him, and the reader feels that shock regardless of whether the insight is new. Other readers might find this poem despicable for the cavalier way Dickey treats the subject (what could be termed a sex power fantasy). Again, I am offering examples that I hope will spur discussion.

Not knowing one's real subject, presuming that one is writing about someone else, for instance, when the real subject is oneself, can result in poems with ethical lapses. In one sense, of course, every poem is about the poet, as Nietzsche says, "who always and at all times says I." In other words, the poet's speaking "self is not the same as that of the waking, empirically real man, but the only truly existent and eternal self resting at the basis of things, through whose images the lyric genius sees this very basis."23

Doppelgänger poems, which use a third person "she" or "he" to describe an alternate reality, are another way of writing about oneself. The best poems push beyond the triggering subject, to use Richard Hugo's phrase, to some unexpected insight that makes the speaker vulnerable. This is not self-centeredness so much as self-awareness. Anyone who's ever been psychoanalyzed knows that being transfixed by someone else's behavior is often an indication that one has not come to terms with a variant of the behavior in oneself. That the subject is the poet's brother, for instance, does not give the poet license to ascribe ideas to him without at the same time exploring why the poet must use him in this way.

William Jay Smith's "The Idiot below the El" exemplifies the danger of a poet's not exploring why another person fascinates him:

From the summer's tree the leopard leaves are torn
Like faces from the windows of the train,
And at my foot a mad boy's tweed cap falls,
And no moth's born that can disturb his brain.

The traffic, with a sound of cap and bells,
Winds into his ear; his blunted eyes
Are buttonhooks, his tight lips twisted shells,
His fingers, candy canes to snare the flies.

Below, the leaves lie still in wind and rain,
And overhead the rails run on and meet
Somewhere outside of time; the clamor dies;
An iron hoop goes clanking down the street.24

(Smith, William Jay. The World below the Window: Poems 1937–1997. "The Idiot Below the El." p.169. © 1998 William Jay Smith. Reprinted with permission of The Johns Hopkins University Press.)

The speaker notices the boy because he looks different: his "blunted eyes," "twisted shell" lips, and "candy cane" fingers strike the speaker as extraordinary. The description is necessarily confined to externals because the speaker presumably does not get to know the boy. He assumes he is "mad," an "idiot," by the way he looks. The speaker compares the boy to things and objectifies him because their encounter is brief—the boy is just a passerby. I read the last stanza as the speaker's failed attempt to get inside the boy's consciousness; "Somewhere outside of time" signifies the poet's realization that his own judgment is contextual. I can't help but read the image of the iron hoop in the last line as a trope for the boy: the boy is as impenetrable to the speaker as a hard object that makes noise. The description does not extend into a new awareness of why the speaker is disturbed by the sight of the boy, why he is remarkable. I would like to ask the poet: what is it about this human being that makes you uneasy, scared? What do you know of the kinds of "idiocy"? How can such a boy earn a living, or who takes care of him? Instead, the poem closes quickly—because the poet has run out of things to say about the boy, or perhaps because the poet doesn't want to explore his own fear.

Some ethical problems in the relationship between speaker and subject arise when the poet is dishonest. There are gradations of dishonesty, of course, but at its root, lying to others sets up an exploitive relationship.

By contrast, Mary Jo Bang's "A Screen Door Slams" describes a six-year-old's first view of a Down's syndrome child without objectifying because the speaker writes into her own awareness:

We leave my brother's red toy tractor
parked on the scorched lawn,
climb the hill, peer through the brush.

at the forbidden: railroad tracks and hobo jungle.
We lose sight of the ravine,
the fat black snake

that falls to the bottom of every yard.
It's Friday night
fish-fry at the Fire Department.

Grownups drink beer from tiny metal buckets.
My sister pulls a tin fish from a metal washtub.
Off to one side,

a girl with Down's syndrome, six years old,
lists in a wheelchair.
The mother's gray hair is drawn away

from her tight, misfortuned face.
She bends over the daughter murmuring
into a lap robe, wiping a drool.

Rolling head, slack jaw, protruding tongue.
An immaculate blue dress,
pristine collar edged with a row of white lace.

Don't stare, my mother says. And I
the same age, air tinged
with the scent of fish and Crisco,

press my face into the ironed-cotton smell
of my mother's skirt,
whisper, I wasn't.25

(reprinted with permission of the University Press of New England)

The poets cited here are attempting something very difficult: representing human subjects in their humanity, while remaining conscious of their own blind spots. Poetry should expand our humanity, not restrict it. Poetry itself is an exercise in "othering," as affirmed by the monologues of Fernando Pessoa. In John Berger's words, poetry "defies the space which separates."26 A.R. Ammons's poem "Poetics" treats the poet's responsibility for what he or she sees. Although the poem might appear to be "about nature" because the example is a birch tree, I believe that the poet is talking about a whole way of seeing,

not the shape on paper—though
that, too—but the
uninterfering means on paper:

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.27

Ammons is discussing forms and shapes—the only example is a birch tree—but his manifesto applies also to writing about people: "being available / to any shape that may be / summoning itself / through me / from the self not mine but ours" is a way to summarize the poet's charge, no matter what the subject matter. Ammons charges the poet to use what he or she sees and to be available to a deeper stage of seeing. And that realization, that new subject, must make the poet vulnerable in some way. An effective poem costs the poet something that a reader can discern and identify with. Finally, each poet is responsible for what he or she sees (or doesn't) and must constantly interrogate his or her own vision. Any subject matter can produce a good poem with treatment that is complex, rich, and deep. Of course, not every poem has to be complex, but poems that deal with the lives of others need to show an awareness (which may be implicit as well as explicit) that another person is always a complicated story, an unsolved mystery. We do not have to admire the people we write about (or through: recall Browning's "My Last Duchess"), but we should think about why we are using them to make poems. I am not advocating self-censorship, but rather self-awareness. Poets try to extend our worlds and our visions, and that entails "hearing the other voice."

The author wishes to thank Ginny Connors, Mark Halliday, Lisa Katz, and Anita Sherman for their readings of this essay.


Natasha Saje is the author of two books of poems, Red Under the Skin (Pittsburgh, 1994) and Bend (Tupelo Press, 2004), and many essays. She teaches at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, and in the Vermont College MFA in Writing Program.

  1. Carolyn Forché, "The Colonel," The Country between Us, (New York: Harper, 1982).
  2. Wayne Booth, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, (Berkeley: U California P, 1988); Martha Nussbaum, Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature, (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990).
  3. Helen Vendler, Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and Ashbery, (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2005).
  4. Robert Langbaum, The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in the Literary Tradition, (Chicago: U Chicago P, 1986).
  5. Wayne Booth, 42.
  6. Matthew Arnold, "A Deptford Poet" Essays Religious and Mixed, Collected Works Vol 8. Ed. R.H. Super, (Ann Arbor: U MI P, 1972), 1.
  7. I.A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, 1924, (London and NY: Routledge, 2001), 29.
  8. Gary Percesepe, Introduction to Ethics, (New York: Prentice Hall, 1995), 14.
  9. Berys Gaut, "The Ethical Criticism of Art," Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection, ed. Jerrold Levinson. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006), 182.
  10. Octavio Paz, The Other Voice, (New York: Harcourt, 1990), 151.
  11. Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2002),7, 10.
  12. Ibid., 113.
  13. Ibid., 122.
  14. Wislawa Szymborska, Monologue of a Dog: New Poems, trans. Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislaw Baranczak, (New York: Harcourt, 2006).
  15. Leslie Marmon Silko, Interview with Christina M. Castro, University of Arizona Poetry Center, News & Notes 25.2, (Spring 2000), 1–4.
  16. William Carlos Williams, "Proletarian Portrait," Selected Poems, (New York: Library of America, 2003).
  17. Mary Jo Salter, "Boulevard du Montparnasse," Sunday Skaters, (New York: Knopf, 1994).
  18. Sharon Olds, "On the Subway," Satan Says, (Pittsburgh: U Pittsburgh P, 1983).
  19. Philip Larkin, "Faith Healing," Collected Poems, (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988).
  20. Elizabeth Bishop, "Filling Station," The Complete Poems, 1927–1979, (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984).
  21. Yi-Fu Tuan, Morality and Imagination: Paradoxes of Progress, (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989).
  22. James Dickey, "Slave Quarters," The Whole Motion: Collected Poems, 1945–1992, (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1992).
  23. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kauffman, (New York: Modern Library, 1992), 50.
  24. William Jay Smith, The World below the Window, Poems 1937–1997, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 169.
  25. Mary Jo Bang, "A Screen Door Slams," Apology for Want, (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1997), 16.
  26. John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, (New York: Vintage Random, 1991), 91.
  27. A.R. Ammons, "Poetics," The Selected Poems, (New York: Norton, 1987).

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