The Wild Card: Selected Poems, Early and Late

Karl Jay Shapiro, Author, David Ignatow, Editor, Stanley Kunitz, Editor
Karl Jay Shapiro, Author, David Ignatow, Editor, Stanley Kunitz, Editor University of Illinois Press $20.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-252-06689-4
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
Hardcover - 191 pages - 978-0-252-02389-7
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Shapiro's influential poems of the 1940s and '50s applied Audenesque techniques and his own metrical facility to then-contemporary, even shocking, subjects: Army life during WWII, when Shapiro served in the Pacific; ""Auto Wreck"" (""We are deranged, walking among the cops/ Who sweep glass and are large and composed""); a university where ""To hurt the Negro and avoid the Jew/ Is the curriculum""; and a soda-fountain ""Drug Store"" where ""the attractive symbols/ Watch over puberty and leer."" More than half of this selection draws on those poems, including the Pulitzer-winning V-Letter (1944) and the meditations on American Jewish identity that culminated in Poems of a Jew (1958). The half autobiographical prose-poem series The Bourgeois Poet (1964)--well represented here--gave Shapiro his most individual, most aggressive style, one part Whitman, three parts Philip Roth: ""The kitchens of my neighbors are like cars: what gleaming dials, what toothy enamels, engines that click and purr, idling the hours away."" Early and late, the poems dwell on social meanings, groups, and types (""The Southerner,"" ""The Conscientious Objector,"" ""The Old Guard"") judging and challenging whatever Shapiro views as orthodoxy. The appealingly unceremonious latest poems declare Shapiro's love for his wife, or commemorate poets from Auden to Mozart's librettist Da Ponte. If Shapiro no longer seems as imposing a poetic presence as he once did (though the prefaces help us reimagine his heyday), this selection reminds us that he has for decades thought and felt honestly about poetry, history, society and family, and is a rewarding sampling of the work that thought has produced. (Aug.)
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