James Merrill’s “The Friend of the Fourth Decade”

David Kalstone, a longtime professor of English at Rutgers University and, prior to that, at Harvard, was one of James Merrill’s closest friends. An expert on Sir Philip Sidney, Kalstone extensively studied 20th-century Americans as well; his second book Five Temperaments (1977) included a chapter on Merrill along with Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery.… continue reading...

The Unstiflement of the Story: James Merrill’s “The Broken Home”

James Merrill3

“The Broken Home” is a sequence of seven sonnets that appeared in Merrill’s 1966 volume Nights and Days. The sonnets are connected by imagery, themes and autobiography, concerning, as they do, two central issues: the trauma of Merrill’s parents’ divorce and the poet’s own incomplete or “broken” childless home.continue reading...

“A Window Fiery-Mild”: The Role of Venice in The Book of Ephraim

The Book of Ephraim is a very “literary” work and perhaps never more so than in its Venetian sections (V and W). It is my contention that Section V (the letter V, not the Roman numeral) constitutes not only a major turning-point in the work, but also a significant declaration of Merrill’s literary aims.… continue reading...

“Effulgent” by David M. Katz (A parody)

 

“Effulgent” by David M. Katz

          Part seemed she of the effulgent thought“Her Initials,” Thomas Hardy

 
Glitter, brilliance, candor, dazzle;
Luster, splendor, lambent lightness;
She evokes a lucid ghazal
All shot through with flashing brightness:
Of those words, he chose “effulgent.”

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Sources of Delight: What We Respond to When We Respond to Poetry by Jan Schreiber

When I was seventeen years old and barely aware of poetry, with no idea what good poetry might be, or even what if anything might please me, a friend, just back from his English class, rushed breathlessly into my room at boarding school, book in hand, and cried, “Listen to this!”… continue reading...

Poetry and the Problem of Standards

“Building my work, I build myself.”

–  Paul Valéry

“Thought tends to collect in pools.”

– Wallace Stevens

Ordinary readers, literary editors, and some English professors confront an inescapable question of judgment: In principle, is it possible, faced with an overwhelming body of work in print, to cull out excellent poems in the way one can cull out fine diamonds or superb soufflés?… continue reading...

CPR Classic Readings: Philip Larkin’s “Here”

Philip Larkin’s 1964 volume, The Whitsun Weddings, contains two poems describing train-journeys. One of them is the volume’s title-poem and is one of the most famous (and best-loved) poems in English since the Second World War; it has been said that with this work he brought a whole new English landscape into poetry.… continue reading...

Speak, Ranjit

Reasons for Belonging: Fourteen Contemporary Indian Poets, edited by Ranjit Hoskote. Viking (New Delhi) 2002. 148 pages. 195 Rupees.

As Reviewed By: Rabindra K. Swain

“For a time,” warns Michael Roberts in his introduction to the first edition of the influential anthology The Faber Book of Modern Verse, “the false poem may be more popular than the true one could have been.”… continue reading...

Philip Larkin and His Adjectives

His Plain Far-Reaching Singleness

I have two of Philip Larkin’s poems by heart—“Sad Steps” and “Aubade”—though I admire many more, and it was while reciting the former poem silently to myself during a particularly boring meeting that I noticed a number of things for the first time, most of them related in one way or another to the poet’s use of adjectives:

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

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Philip Larkin and Happiness

On “Born Yesterday”

For those familiar with Philip Larkin’s work, the title of this short essay will seem to offer a juxtaposition so improbable as to be laugh-out-loud funny-rather like that old joke staple, the tiny book titled German Humor, or the admittedly unlikely prospect of a panel at a New Formalist conference on “The Achievement of the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E Poets.”… continue reading...

In Memoriam: Tom Disch (1940 – 2008)

As Reviewed By: Ben Downing

It was his sonnet “A Bookmark” that first caught my attention. “Four years ago I started reading Proust,” the poem begins, and goes on to skewer Remembrance of Things Past and its mincing narrator-“Oh, what a slimy sort he must have been- / So weak, so sweetly poisonous, so fey!”-with… continue reading...

Tom Disch: Work Ethicist of American Poetry

As Reviewed By: Sunil Iyengar

“A spiritual life doesn’t require taking Holy Orders, only a decision to submit to a lifelong discipline.”
— Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008

Few American poet-critics since Edgar Allan Poe have brought a practitioner’s knowledge of writing genre fiction to the service of poetry reviewing.… continue reading...

The Poet of Play: Sonny Williams on X. J. Kennedy

Read: X. J. Kennedy and KidLit

I first heard X. J. Kennedy read in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I was in a lecture hall at the local university, weary and dispirited from an overdose of “serious” poetry readings, and I glanced at the doorway, deliberating on whether or not I should make my escape to the local bar.… continue reading...

Re-Collecting MacNeice

Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice edited by Peter McDonald. Faber and Faber, 2007. 836 pages.

As Reviewed By: Maria Johnston

In a note on Louis MacNeice’s poetry penned in 1964, Louise Bogan observed that, “the Collected Poems 1925-1948 should, although not so arranged, be read in chronological order, for it is an added pleasure to watch the opening out of a true lyric gift, and of one so clearly illustrative of the subtle shifts and adjustments that have occurred within English poetic tradition during this century.”… continue reading...

The Tawdry Halo of the Idle Martyr: MacNeice’s Autumn Journal

As Reviewed By: Katy Evans-Bush

In 1963, after Louis MacNeice’s premature death of pneumonia, Philip Larkin wrote that “his poetry was the poetry of our everyday life, of shop-windows, traffic policemen, ice-cream soda, lawn-mowers, and an uneasy awareness of what the news-boys were shouting .… continue reading...

The Verse Hard-wired

Harbour Lights by Derek Mahon. The Gallery Press, 2005.

As Reviewed By: Alfred Corn

Myths about poetry and its production resist rational criticism, and we may be wasting our time trying to deconstruct the fable that English-language poetry has unfolded under what might be called a presiding genius, a directive energy moving from place to place at different points in history.… continue reading...

This is the Life of the Mind

As Reviewed By: Maria Johnston

The Sea Cabinet by Caitríona O’ Reilly. Bloodaxe, £7.95, 61 pp.

I am rereading Moby Dick in preparation for the exam deluge tomorrow-am whelmed and wondrous at the swimming Biblical & craggy Shakespearean cadences, the rich & lustrous & fragrant recreation of spermaceti, ambergris-miracle, marvel, the ton-thunderous leviathan.

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Terra Incognita, or British Poetry in America

As Reviewed By: John Drexel

New British Poetry. Edited by Don Paterson and Charles Simic. Graywolf Press, 2004. Paper: $16.00.

“Anthologies provide the easiest access for American readers into contemporary British poetry, and the lack of reliable contemporary anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic may account for a large part of the apathy and misunderstanding between the two literatures,” wrote Dana Gioia some twenty years ago (in the title piece of Barrier of a Common Language, his recent collection of essays and reviews).

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Poetry’s Embedded Soldier

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner. Alice James Books, 2005.

As Reviewed By: Aaron Baker

Civil unrest, wars, and insurgencies rage around the globe, but for most of us, comfortably ensconced in some version of a Western lifestyle (a “lifestyle” itself being one of our consumer choices), this news, like that of distant weather, almost always takes place on the level of heady abstraction.… continue reading...

On and Off of Parnassus

As Reviewed By: Ernest Hilbert

Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. USA $24.00, Canada $37.00

Anne Carson’s most recent collection, Men in the Off Hours, is a conspicuous departure from the uniform tone and patient psychological exploration of her previous book, Autobiography of Red, which, for all its intellectual elegance, was essentially a bildungsroman, a formational novel in verse.… continue reading...

The Voice of the Poet

As Reviewed By: Ernest Hilbert

A Series on Recorded Poetry

Thoughtful readers of poetry are attuned to the musical subtleties of the human voice. These qualities shape the poetry, and most poetry—purely optical or purposely discordant linguistic experiments notwithstanding—should be heard, either as an acoustic mental image, when read silently, or spoken aloud.… continue reading...

The Innocent Ear: Some Thoughts on the Popular Disdain for Versification

A few years ago, for the brief span of a few classes, I attended a poetry workshop class at Boston University. Though I was not formally enrolled in the class, the teacher had generously invited me to attend-and since the teacher was one of the great living masters of the art I accepted, though it necessitated my commuting between California and Massachusetts for several months.… continue reading...

Letters to a Young Poet: Rilke’s Non-Correspondence School

“The letter that is sent is never the letter that is received.” —Lacan

As Reviewed By: Daniel Bosch

Rilke never held a teaching post. We have no cache of syllabi, no workshop guidelines, and though in his letters he expressed quite a lot of readerly enthusiasm, there is no definitive Rilkean reading list, no Rilkean curriculum.… continue reading...

In Memoriam: Hugh Kenner

Hugh Kenner (1923-2003)

As Reviewed By: James Rother

Just barely octogenarian (but grown wispy), Hugh Kenner, like the Romantic correspondent breeze he so adamantly eschewed in the prolonged swath through modernist studies he cut like a mighty wind, slipped away a year ago this past month, a legend diminished but certainly not obscured by the marginalizations heaped upon him in recent years.… continue reading...

The Lost Children of America

Here

in the dusty malarial lanes

of Cuttack where years have slowly lost their secrets

they wander

in these lanes nicked by intrigue and rain

and the unseen hands of gods

in front of a garish temple of the simian Hanuman

along river banks splattered with excreta and dung

in the crowded market square among rotting tomatoes

fish-scales and the moist warm odour of bananas and piss

passing by the big-breasted, hard-eyed young whores

who frequent the empty space behind the local cinema

by the Town Hall where corrupt politicians still

go on delivering their pre-election speeches

and on the high road above the town’s burning-ground

from which gluttonous tan smoke floats up

in the breeze, smacking of scorched marrow and doubt.… continue reading...

Three Things to Forget About Contemporary Poetry

As Reviewed By: Marc Pietrzykowski

I. Forget About Marketing

F. T. Marinetti’s publication of the Futurist Manifesto in Le Figaro on Feb. 20, 1909, managed to shock its readers by melding a traditional form-the individual or collaborative statement of disputation against an orthodoxy-with the language of Revolution, or, as it was later called, Marketing:

“Look at us!

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No Poet Left Behind

As Reviewed By: Joan Houlihan

In the dark age of poetry, the pre-MFA era, when poets were untethered to a clear identity, often unhinged, and wandering loose in a society inimical to their aims, they were forced to brood in out-of-the-way cafés and corners, bringing forth from their painful rubbings against society’s strictures their secret image-pearls without benefit of community or support of other pearl-producers.… continue reading...

Reformulating Forms

A Close Reading of Two Contemporary Indian Poets

As Reviewed By: Ravi Shankar

The world’s largest secular democracy has been exporting its letters in English for a few literary generations, but in the wake of a few luminaries-Rabindranath Tagore or more recently, Arundhati Roy-many strident, lyrical voices have gone unrecognized (after all, this wave of Indian poets and novelists, for all the hype, is still but a ripple in publishing in terms of sheer numbers).… continue reading...

Robert Lowell in Fourteen Lines

Collected Poems of Robert Lowell. Edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2003. 1181 pages. $45.

As Reviewed By: Christopher Bakken

In sundry moods, ‘twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground…
-William Wordsworth

More than a decade ago, over lunch with a mentor, I was discussing a sonnet sequence I’d been torturing myself and my friends with for months.… continue reading...

Passing Facts: Reviewing Lowell’s Reviewers

Collected Poems of Robert Lowell. Edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2003. 1181 pages. $45.

As Reviewed By: Aaron Baker

“The Return of Robert Lowell,” James Fenton titled his recent essay in The New York Review of Books, which invites the question-but where ever did Lowell go?… continue reading...

Robert Lowell in Fourteen Lines

Collected Poems of Robert Lowell. Edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2003. 1181 pages. $45.

As Reviewed By: Christopher Bakken

In sundry moods, ‘twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground…
-William Wordsworth

More than a decade ago, over lunch with a mentor, I was discussing a sonnet sequence I’d been torturing myself and my friends with for months.… continue reading...

Dana Gioia’s Defenders of the Modernist-Romantic Tradition

As Reviewed By: Sunil Iyengar

Can Poetry Matter? by Dana Gioia. 10th anniversary edition. Graywolf Press, 2003.

I.

In an introductory note to his first poetry collection, The Rage for the Lost Penny (1940), Randall Jarrell declares: “‘Modern’ poetry is, essentially, an extension of romanticism; it is what romantic poetry wishes or finds it necessary to become.”… continue reading...

Oedipus Redivivus

As Reviewed By: Ernest Hilbert

The Throne of Labdacus by Gjertrud Schnackenberg. Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2001

I.

At the height of its rather muted publicity, the new formalism movement-proclaimed by Dana Gioia in the 1980s, and laid out in Linnaean proportions by Mark Jarman and David Mason in Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism-was met with derision by many American poets and with confusion by European poets, few of whom had strayed any great distance from the formal traditions of their forebears.… continue reading...

History Held Together with String

As Reviewed By: J. K. Halligan

The Invasion Handbook by Tom Paulin. Faber & Faber, 2002.

In the poem “Surveillances”, from his second collection, The Strange Museum (1980), Tom Paulin addressed the anonymous inhabitants of Northern Ireland who made their homes near a prison-

And if you would swop its functions
For a culture of bungalows
And light verse,
You know this is one
Of the places you belong in,
And that its public uniform
Has claimed your service.

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Berryman & Shakespeare

Reviewed: Berryman’s Shakespeare: Essays, Letters, and Other Writings by John Berryman. Edited by John Haffenden. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999. 416 pages.

In the introduction to Berryman’s Shakespeare, John Haffenden, the book’s editor and an early biographer of Berryman, admits: “No one who reads this volume will be looking for permanent scholarship: they will be looking for the poet’s reflections on another artist, and for the poet’s critical insights….”… continue reading...

Confusion As An Operating Principle: Cort Day, Geoffrey Nutter, and the Contemporary “Sonnet-esque” Sequence

As Reviewed By: John Erhardt

The Chime by Cort Day
Alice James Books ($11.95)

A Summer Evening by Geoffrey Nutter
Colorado/Center For Literary Publishing ($14.95)

At some point, poets stopped writing about what they knew and began writing about what they didn’t know (I can’t think of a single good reason to try and pinpoint an exact time period for this; it was a rather gradual change, and the ensuing debate if I got it wrong would be neither productive nor trustworthy).… continue reading...

Designed for a Lifetime of Becoming: The Poetic Debut of Adam Kirsch

As Reviewed By: Sunil Iyengar

The Thousand Wells by Adam Kirsch. Ivan R. Dee, 2002. $18.95.

“It is very likely that the really vital poetry of the next generation will be not about God at all–the poets who currently treat that theme often descend into banality or obscurity–but about other profound and secular themes: love, marriage, loneliness, aging, death.”

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Beatnik Bohemia

As Reviewed By: Ernest Hilbert

The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles. Grove Press. 294 pages. $24.95.

The byronic images and locales of La Boheme, Giacomo Puccini’s nineteenth-century depiction of classically starving artists in Paris’s Latin Quarter, have come to dominate, rather predictably, portrayals of young artists, writers, and singers: whiskered rogues in whose unwashed ears the muses Aoide, Erato, and very often Melpomene whisper.… continue reading...