Fall 2004 • Vol. XXVI No. 4 Nonfiction |

‘Drawing by Michelangelo, Color by Titian’: Of Originality, Influence, and the Poetry of John Koethe

1. What is originality? As heirs to the tradition of romantic individualism, we may think of originality in art as the emergence of a style or voice so distinct from its predecessors as to seem previously unheard and unheard of. If we follow that line of thought, we may regard originality in poetry as marked by a style which seems to distinguish itself so dramatically from poets who have come before as to seem utterly new, and thus to come out of nowhere (as if that were possible). But there is another way of thinking about originality, which discovers the original less in a radical departure from precedents and norms, and more in the way an artist accepts and puts to use a set of important and even inevitable influences, acknowledging that without them, the new work could scarcely have come into being. In this view, originality emerges from a discernible process, in which influences are accepted and used, absorbed and altered. An illustration of this concept of originality, whi

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Robert Hahn is a poet, essayist, and translator. He lives in Boston.

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