Criticism
Review: Three 1991 Poetry Collections: Roger Weingarten, Maurya Simon, Lowell Jaeger Print E-mail

kjugv(High Plains Literary Review. Vol. VI, No. 2, Fall 1991)

Poetry With and Without Feeling

After reading three poets of highly dissimilar focus I am again amazed at the truthfulness of a simple rule, one that may seem obvious to any reader. Poetry which forges with its subject a depth of feeling that is honest and personal and grave cannot be ignored.

But woe to that poetry which forges without feeling.

Of the three before us, Roger Weingarten's verse (Infant Bonds of Joy) has little in it to recommend. His emphasis on mercurial objects stirred with ponderous discourse succeeds too often in trivializing emotion. The result as Leonard Kriegel wrote of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is "something missing . . . something essential, an absence not merely of the deeper self but of the very possibility of a deeper self."

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Review: Metaphor and Memory by Cynthia Ozick Print E-mail

ozick(Pembroke Magazine Number 23, 1991)

Heart to Heart

For Cynthia Ozick essays are the houses of ideas, not the doorway to her personal experience. Consequently, in this collection of some thirty essays and reviews from the 1980s, she writes about herself only sketchily: She grew up in the Bronx speaking Yiddish and English; she fell prey to a few ethnic-hating schoomarms who lessoned out the oi sounds from her Bronx-cum-Jewish brogue; and at seventeen, she she kew she would devote her life to writing "literature."

Judging by her much lauded, complexly textured fiction—three novels and four story collections—her devotion (and talent) has produced some excellent work. Read the recent "A Shawl," the haunting story of a mother and her two daughters interned in a concentration camp and the shawl's nourishing power over their living and dying. The story is about self-disclosure and religious strength, subjects common to her fiction, and about Jews whose faith manifests itself struggling with annihilation or the temptations of secular life.

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Review: Iron John and American Poetry by Robert Bly Print E-mail

iron john(Written March 1991)

Since its publication in September 1990 Robert Bly’s Iron John has become a national bestseller. At the end of 1991 the book was beyond its twentieth printing, and there was still no word on a paperback edition. The book also seemed certain to remain for a second year on the New York Times bestseller list. Quite a feat for a book by a poet whose subject is men. Never before has a book about male psychology sold as well and galvanized the attention of American men as this one has. If men are seriously reading Iron John, then they are exploring a more joyous masculinity, examining the emotional pain of their lives and developing maturer psyches. But Bly’s book may have also attracted the anxiety and confusion that many contemporary men feel. If men are ambivalent about their condition today, then what has caused this feeling and why are men turning to Bly for help?

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Review: Young Rebecca West & Midlife Ursula LeGuin Print E-mail

young rebecca(Written January 1991)

Rebecca West and Ursula K. Le Guin are two writers whose work spans the century and are both devoted to the cause of feminism. West, the English novelist, historian, autobiographer, and critic, died in 1983 at the age of 91.

And Le Guin, novelist, poet, and critic, is one of America's leading fantasy writers. Unlike the wide range of subjects addressed in their fiction, a commitment to safeguarding the lives of women is primary in these essay collections. Both volumes reveal writers who convey their convictions with a reproachful pen.

The rest of the review is available here (opens a PDF).

 
Review: Circe's Mountain: Stories by Marie Luise Kaschnitz Print E-mail

circe-lilli-ladewig(Northeast Series V, No. 3, Winter 1990-1991)

The Art of the Felt Story

Autobiographical fiction like clothing often attracts our attention not by the quality of the cloth but by the attitude of the wearer. That is to say writers who base their fiction on their own lives seem most honest about themselves when they are attuned to what Willa Cather called "the range and character of [their] deepest sympathies." Because they have discovered an awareness of their own sensibility by way of art and made such knowledge primary, they can make the best stylistic choices for their work. We feel a writer's stories of personal growth as truthful when the felt depth of the experience equates to the formal quality of the telling.

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Review: Eden by Dennis Schmitz Print E-mail

Dennis-Schmitz-1(South Florida Poetry Review. Volume 8, No. 1: Winter 1991)

Surfaces to Keep

When I read any poem by Dennis Schmitz I feel that he achieves my attention with an insight which because I was lost in his language I was unprepared for. Which is another way to say his surface was training me all along how to read more deeply. To illustrate here’s the beginning of Schmitz’s “Instructions for Rowing.”

                   across the reflected sun the skiff cuts

                   should include diagrams

                   of the radius joint of the wrist,

                   a kind of human oarlock.

                   The island in his head the sweated rower looks at

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Review: American Poetry: Wildness & Domesticity by Robert Bly Print E-mail

robert_bly(Poetry Flash Number 214 January 1991)

Riders of the Unconscious

When I studied American literature in graduate school, I took a course in the later novels of Mark Twain, offered by one of the most renowned Twain scholars in the United States, Roy Harvey Pearce. Obviously, since it was our first meeting we had prepared no assignment. And certainly Dr. Pearce would not cancel a three-hour evening class. So, instead, he read us an essay of his own that he had written twenty-five years earlier about the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, of course, one of the last lighter-hearted of the Twain works. Because the original essay wasn't long enough for our class, he added a whole second section, based brilliantly I thought at the time, on the final phrase of the previous essay. Something about "lighting out for the territories," a shadow place, whose darkness Twain's subsequent novels about the damned human race explored in depth.

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