I've compared Lisa Robertson's poetics to Irving Layton's before. Here is a paragraph from Layton's "Poets: The Conscience of Mankind" that is worth comparing to the paragraph I quoted from Robertson's "Prosody of the Citizen" in my last post.
Poetry opposes the totality of the self to the creeping totalitarianism of the twentieth century. The pressures on the individual to simplify and abstract, to deaden his senses, and to live either in his brains or in his loins, are becoming more and more difficult to withstand and resist. In the face of these pressures, poetry affirms that life must be enjoyed in all its delicious complexity. It says to the harassed men and women of today: you must live fully and experience all that you can; only in that way will you be living humanly. A great poet said it a long time ago: we must all be born again. Modern life, with its specialization and division of labour, is turning each of into anatomical and physiological fragments — a brain, an eye, a nose, an arm or a leg. We must somehow find a way to re-assemble these into a human being. I believe that the reading and writing of poetry is a necessary start in the process of reassembling.
Layton's essay is from 1963, which offers us an interesting (if of course entirely constructed) line of historical development from Ezra Pound's "The Serious Artist" (1913) to Robertson's "Prosody of the Citizen" almost a hundred years later, with Layton right in the middle. We go from poetry's foundational role in the ethics, to its opposition to totalitarianism, to its "urgent social abjection". It is important to notice that Robertson and Layton agree on poetry as the "beginning" of something, and both I think mean the beginning of being human. (Layton seems to be quoting Jesus on the need to be "born again"; Robertson gets her concept of "natality" from Arendt.) But isn't it curious that they all (including Pound) have such high hopes (and desperate needs) for poetry? Why should it be so important to write verse? Does our ability to "live humanly" really depend on writing down lines of words that form strophes and then arranging these into poems? Is our humanity threatened, these days, by the palpable absence of poetry in public life? Or are our needs, along with our humanity, changing?