He begins by writing "My purpose in this book is to examine the images of self - or of the nature and quality of subjective experience - in contemporary American poetry, and to show how these images inform, even help to explain, the immense variety of contemporary styles" (p.1) ... "showing how contemporary styles, especially the more drastic and experimental ones, attempt a kind of equivalent for consciousness", p.5.
He studies Lowell then Plath, who "almost entirely lacks the novelistic shallow-relief associated with the confessional poets as a group. We are much less concerned in her work than in Lowell's with fact" (p.26). "Plath's poetry often expresses a desire to leave the personal sense of self behind, to attain to some mode of being that is conscious yet impersonal" (p.65), which leads onto Snyder.
Then he writes "Over the last ten years, one has more of a sense of a single period style dominating the work of emerging poets than at any time since the 1950s" (p.93). "Here we come to the nadir of the contemporary poetry of the self, in a poetry that finds the personal self sterile, perhaps not even there, yet can posit no escape from it either by plunging into a fertile collective unconscious or by taking an interest in the outside world", p.96.
After that, "the point in contemporary American poetry where the epiphanic and the anti-epiphanic are truly married, to produce something rich, strange, and not quite like either, is in the work of John Ashbery", p.116. "Ashbery is an uneven poet, whose repetitiveness and tendency to disperse energy, even more than his difficulty, place a heavy burden on his readers. He is fascinating - if not indeed indispensable - as a tragic epistemologist, in whose work the demystifying intelligence of the twentieth-century avant-gardes enters into a dialectic with the highest claims, emotional and aesthetic, of Romanticism and Symbolism. But he touches greatness by his extraordinary command of montage, rhythmic progression, and the half-focused image, through which he renders visible in-between space, uncertainty principles, in consciousness", p.147.
In the final chapter, "The Future of Personal Poetry", he writes that despite reactions against confessional poetry, etc, "some of the most distinguished work being done by poets in their thirties and forties continues to be autobiographical". He notes two trends that avoid the direct confessionalist approach: one going "deeper" into dream narration; the other going "shallower", "risking the prosaic and even the banal in a new version of the perennial Wordsworthian return to actual speech", (p.150).