Reviews

The best of all possible Audens

A review of 'Goodnight, Marie, May God Have Mercy on Your Soul'

Poetry makes nothing happen. Since 2008, it’s been pretty common for contemporary poetry and the discourse about it to swirl anxiously around this line from W. H. Auden. Nobody likes it; everybody quotes it.

Poetry makes nothing happen. Since 2008, it’s been pretty common for contemporary poetry and the discourse about it to swirl anxiously around this line from W. H. Auden. Nobody likes it; everybody quotes it. But in quoting it, nobody tries to argue for some distance between poetry and politics. It’s more like the question of whether poetry (and art more broadly) is or is not political has been answered by the movement of history ­— it is.

A life lived in pause

Lynley Edmeades's 'As the Verb Tenses'

Photo of Lynley Edmeades (right) by Rory Mearns.

As the Verb Tenses is interested in varieties of distance — physical, temporal, emotional. As a collection, it seems not always certain whether to embrace or to overcome these distances. There is insight to be gained in the cultivation of detachment, it suggests; but might there be something lost in moments of hesitation?

The Duncan/Olson dichotomy

A review of two volumes

Photos of Robert Duncan (left) and Charles Olson (right) by Jonathan Williams, from the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection. Used with permission of Thomas Meyer.

Here are two elusive pieces of the context of midcentury American poetics. The Robert Duncan/Charles Olson letters have been available, until now, only in the brief reviews of each other that the poets extracted from them (“near-far Mister Olson” and “Against Wisdom as Such”), passages quoted by scholars who have been able to visit the archive at Storrs, and handfuls in Sulfur, Poetry, and Olson’s Selected Letters.

A vacancy one knew

Or: shallows of content; or: casuistry

I have chosen this book / simply because I happen to have come upon a copy of it / but I’m taking it to be fairly representative of Ashbery’s later poetry / by which I would indicate the books that have appeared since Flow Chart (published in 1991 / and succeeded by a new book of lyric poetry every couple of years).

The paradox of the poetic sign is that the more densely textured it becomes, the more it expands its referential power; but this density also turns it into a phenomenon in its own right, throwing its autonomy into relief and thus loosening up its bond with the real world. — Terry Eagleton, The Event of Literature

A review of 'Attributed to the Harrow Painter'

Photo of Nick Twemlow (left) by Michael Marcinkowski.

The poems in Nick Twemlow’s second collection, Attributed to the Harrow Painter, address art as they do adolescence, family, trauma, and addiction: as strokes of what make both the artist and the now-father. The speaker of these poems is in his midlife and the father of a young son, whom he cannot parent without being informed by the forces and relationships that have defined him. The “I” of this collection may ironize or chide the self, but it does not deny that the “self” informs the work in spite of life’s free radicals.