The necessity of a poet to be aware of his place in relation to his poem and to his tradition, to surrender himself to his work and to the great masters preceding him, is overturned by Harold Bloom in his 1973 work, The Anxiety of Influence. Bloom argued that each and every “great poet” must struggle with and overcome the anxiety of simply imitating his predecessor poet. He grounded his arguments on the work of Friedrich Nietzsche (notably Genealogy of Morals) and Sigmund Freud, though he disagrees with the tendency of both authors to “over-idealize the imagination.” To Bloom, a poetic tradition is a tradition of misreading, with each upcoming poet clearing a space in the poetic tradition for himself or herself by alleging some inconsistency, or mistake, or insufficient progress on the part of his or her predecessor(s). He cites multiple examples in this work and in his other work on the same topic, A Map of Misreading, published in 1975, one of the most interesting of which is the multiplicity of misreadings by poets and critics—including T. S. Eliot, Northrop Frye, and Percy Shelley—of Milton’s epic poems, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.
Poetic tradition remains a problematic concept, subject to the same flaws as the poetic canon. One such flaw is the issue of marginalized groups, or subsets of the population, including female writers and writers of a non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicity or tradition. Virginia Woolf addressed the question of a woman’s place in poetic tradition in A Room of One’s Own, asserting that a woman (or indeed any poet) required personal space, financial support, and literary freedom in order to produce artistic works. Woolf saw a place for women writers in the literary canon, but she did not see a supporting system in place for women to use in order to get there. Notably, Bloom sees the development of a literary tradition as a primarily male-male struggle between father and son, referring several times to the myth of Oedipus. Literary tradition was also called into question for being almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon by Chinua Achebe, who criticized Joseph Conrad’s canonical novella, Heart of Darkness, for its racist images and attitudes in his 1975 essay, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” Achebe advocated for a less subjective study of literary tradition through the accommodation of critical and creative works representing opposing viewpoints. The idea of a poetic tradition is an inherently problematic one, for while it is not so difficult to agree on who should be included in the line of poets that constitute a poetic canon, it is extremely difficult to divine what relation they bear to each other, and how to read their works.