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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Context Collapse

A Poem Containing a History of Poetry

by Ryan Ruby

Book cover for Context Collapse
Book cover for Context Collapse

Literary critic Ryan Ruby uncovers the secret history of poetry in a mock-academic verse essay filled with wit and wisdom.

Prophet. Entertainer. Courtier. Criminal. Revolutionary. Critic. Scholar. Nobody. Epic in sweep, Context Collapse is the secret history of the poet—from Bronze Age Greece and Renaissance Italy to the cafés of Grub Street and the Latin Quarter, from the creative writing departments of the American Midwest to the boardrooms of Silicon Valley. Cheekily introducing academic discourse, media studies, cybersemiotics, literary sociology, and heterodox economics into his blank verse study of poetry, Ruby traces the always delicate dance between poets, their publishers, and their audiences, and shows how, time and time again, the social, technological, and aesthetic experiments that appear in poetic language have prefigured radical changes to the ways of life of millions of people. It is precisely to poets to whom we ought to turn to catch a glimpse, as Shelley once put it, of the “gigantic shadows futurity casts on the present.”

Book cover for Context Collapse
Book cover for Context Collapse

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“Context Collapse is an erudite and a perceptive essay in the form of a poem, which traces the history of poetry from ancient orality to the electronic age. Using both the line and the footnote in a self-referential and sophisticated performance, it argues that what poetry is depends on the economic, social and technological conditions of its production.”

“Ryan Ruby has written a daring kind of essay. The verse text and verse footnotes conflate and flail, destabilizing and stylizing one another like conjoined twins.”

“Reader! In this book, you are sitting for a family portrait. Ryan Ruby has written a poem of poetry’s audience, from first song by firelight to the cool blue of the computer screen. The story he tells is learned, witty, bright with shards of lyric; a surreptitious media theory by turns elegiac and inspiring. You will see your self here, and we can see each other, and all of us can remember how good it gets when humans pay attention to what humans make.”

“It seems impossible that Context Collapse is as wildly erudite and incredibly fun as it is. What a grand survey of poetry, in poetry! I'm envious of Ryan Ruby for succeeding so brilliantly with this bold and cheeky (and frankly insane) project.”

“What a joy it is to think alongside Ryan Ruby. In Context Collapse, critical argument and literary history become sensuous and playful, provocative in the best sense and, by the end, deeply moving.”