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A Commonplace Book


Douglas Crase (View Bio)
Paperback: University of Michigan Press, 1997.


From its title forward, AMERIFIL.TXT is an unusual book. The title, unpacked like a computer filename and pronounced "Amerifile Text," reveals the book's beguiling proposition: that the answer to the question of what it means to be an American lies not on television talk shows nor within think tanks but within American memory itself. The virtue of this "Amerifile" is to demonstrate that such memory exists, in texts ready to access as if they were digital entries in an online commonplace book.

The twenty-three American writers who appear in the book range chronologically from the colonial thinker John Wise to the contemporary poet John Ashbery. Their appearances are arranged to comment almost interactively on identifiable American issues like "Doing Your Thing," "How Writing Is Written," "Pursuit of Happiness," and "Right to Privacy." Douglas Crase has said that he finds rearrangement morally and artistically more interesting than opinions, as rearrangement involves choice and commitment, while opinions are only held. In the end, readers may conclude that Amerifil.Txt is not a commonplace book at all, but rather a spiritual autobiography of its compiler.

This book is a volume within the noted "Poets on Poetry" series.

"For Crase Emerson is the tutelary spirit who invented what Crase calls ‘the prose-hidden poem’. ‘There is no book,’ he rightly observes, ‘not even Leaves of Grass, that is closer to the source of our poetry than Emerson’s Essays. For American poetry, this prose is home.’ The meaning of home – inhabited or imagined, shared or secluded – is Crase’s most persistent subject, and home is a place in which to experiment: it plays host to some unlikely double-acts, with the ‘sentency stanzas’ of Robert Frost found alongside the ‘stanzaic sentences’ of Gertrude Stein, and it stretches from Whitman to Ashbery, both innovators in poetical-paragraphical style – ‘big blocks of words, prosy chunks that in the sequential and cumulative effects can be sized up as kin to paragraphs’. Emerson’s view that ‘it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a poem’ echoes in Ashbery’s claim that Crase writes ‘supple argumentative poetry’…. The sense you get of a speaker who knows what he wants to say, but whose mode of knowing is to gradually feel his way, a ‘mounting architecture’, is characteristic of Crase.… This is a commitment to style as a form of cultural energy, inquiry and bequest.... The custodial instinct in Crase’s work finds its strongest expression as a mode of encouragement.... Crase warms to a kind of daring that is also a kind of responsibility." — Matthew Bevis, London Review of Books

"Crase’s is a purely democratic voice that takes its song from all aspects of American life—colonial and contemporary, low and high, unjust and righteous—and focuses its tune on the future with its mind on the past. It couples Whitman’s expansiveness with Ashbery’s amused loneliness, then adds Stevens’s cerebral naughtiness and Schuyler’s precise description of things as they are. But beyond that sum and its parts, there is another voice that sets the poetry in a more liberating direction.... Crase continues the search for the America behind America. Fittingly, it reads more like poetry than a commonplace book, the motley of the quotations hanging together like the stanzas of one epic soliloquy." — Michael Schiavo, Tin House

"Thought-provoking and perfect for fidgety moments is AMERIFIL.TXT, Douglas Crase’s commonplace book of unfamiliar and exhilarating quotations from the writers in his personal pantheon. Consider this, from Wallace Stevens: 'For nine readers out of ten, the necessary angel will appear to be the angel of the imagination and for nine days out of ten that is true, although it is the tenth day that counts.'" — Katha Pollitt, The Nation

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