A Gilded Lapse of Time: Poems

Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Author
Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $19 (143p) ISBN 978-0-374-16226-9
Reviewed on: 11/02/1992
Release date: 11/01/1992
Paperback - 156 pages - 978-0-374-52399-2
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As she tours the ghostly Mausoleum of Galla Placidiasic and Dante's tomb at Ravenna, Schnackenberg ( Portraits and Elegies ) finds in Italian Renaissance art the multifarious inspiration for this remarkable collection of poems. Bold enough to address Dante ``in paradise,'' she also does not shy from her chosen themes: the legendary creation of the world, the anguish of Christ, Stalin's destruction of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, and the flux between poetry and history. Just as Dante tears the branch from the thorn tree and discovers the human suicides who speak in blood, this poet too draws vital connections between poetic language and mortal pain, and begs Dante, ``If you would love them, do this much for them, / To let them be. Or that is what I heard / When I thought poetry was love and I had / Sickened of poetry.'' Schnackenberg writes best when she endows static art with drama and immediacy, as in her sharp-tongued address to Piero della Francesca's ``Soldier Asleep at the Tomb.'' Her verse is regal and elegant, and her imagery--evoking the glorious, hammered-gold realm of dripping honeycombs, spinning celestial globes and glittering mosaics--repeatedly dazzles and delights. Yet at times her statuesque style is deadeningly inert, and overwrought images can become airless and inscrutable: ``In gold glass, monophysite particles swimming upward / Out of the prisons of ecclesiastical geography.'' (Nov.)
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