Reviews

The posthumous now

On Hillary Gravendyk's 'The Soluble Hour'

Photo of Gravendyk (right) courtesy of Benjamin Burrill.

How do we read the work of poets who die young? Recent books by Joan Murray and Max Ritvo have me thinking about the question with a special intensity. Ritvo died of Ewing’s sarcoma in 2016 at just twenty-five, with two posthumous volumes — The Final Voicemails: Poems and Letters from Max — published last year. Murray, who won the Yale Younger Poets award, died at nearly the same age, in 1942; Drafts, Fragments, and Poems: The Complete Poetry has just been painstakingly edited by Farnoosh Fathi and published by NYRB Poets.

How do we read the work of poets who die young? Recent books by Joan Murray and Max Ritvo have me thinking about the question with a special intensity.

Black/women are alive after tomorrow

A review of 'Letters to the Future: Black Women/Radical Writing'

Above: detail from cover art of ‘Letters to the Future.’

The most provocative mark in this anthology may be the virgule or forward slash that separates the last quarter of the title — Radical Writing — from the opening three quarters of the title — Letters to the Future: Black Women. I’ve analyzed elsewhere the function of the colon, a staple in academic article and book titles, so I won’t discuss that here.

Geoffrey G. O'Brien's subjunctive 'dividuals

'Experience in Groups'

Author photo (right) courtesy of Geoffrey G. O’Brien.

O’Brien’s “groups” are not Jonathan Edwards’s congregation or assembly. Nor are they the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie “crowds” of Gustave Le Bon, who argued there was no culture in social movements (only unconscious religious structures), though we do get “crowds” akin to the “clouds” of Charles Baudelaire, Constantin Guy, and Walter Benjamin. Nor are they Marxist “masses” or “unions,” or the twentieth-century “association” or “league” (Women’s, of Nations). 

Groups as period style

The scholar's blush

Shame as method in 'Lyric Shame'

Photo by Anthony Easton, via <a href= https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkmoose/26
Photo by Anthony Easton, via flickr.

Lyric Shame (2014), a method-driven reappraisal of the mid- to late-twentieth-century “lyric” poem, looks to readers’ shame as an interpretive device. Shame: that blushing state that finds us thinking of what others must be thinking and/or self-caught in the act of wanting something (something others do not think we should be wanting); an awareness of exposure or of being seen by others; a social signpost; a readable heat.

Learning by doing

A review of 'Spellbound: The Art of Teaching Poetry'

Photo via <a href=https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Transon,_moldings,_and

I collect poetry handbooks — as if by simply possessing them I could conquer my teaching anxieties. I’ll also admit that I have rarely, if ever, used the exercises and prompts in these how-to’s — neither the ones in Robin Behn and Chase Twichell’s The Practice of Poetry or in Kenneth Koch’s classic Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?, nor in any of the others. Pleasure lies in reading these books the way armchair cooks read recipes: intellectually savoring subtle combinations of flavors and forms while never tasting them in the kitchen.

I collect poetry handbooks — as if by simply possessing them I could conquer my teaching anxieties. I’ll also admit that I have rarely, if ever, used the exercises and prompts in these how-to’s — neither the ones in Robin Behn and Chase Twichell’s The Practice of Poetry or in Kenneth Koch’s classic Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?, nor in any of the others. Pleasure lies in reading these books the way armchair cooks read recipes: intellectually savoring subtle combinations of flavors and forms while never tasting them in the kitchen.