GETTING PERSONAL: Selected Writings

Phillip Lopate, Author . Basic $25 (399p) ISBN 978-0-465-04173-2

Essayist, poet and cultural critic Lopate gleans from his previous works a selection representing various interests and illuminating his life. The essays form a discontinuous but satisfying whole. The first three sections center on his personal life and resemble fictional narratives, with fully drawn characters (e.g., Osao, a romantic interest whose love was "like the bonsai tree, perfect in its own limited way... doomed to grow no higher than one's knee," and a landlord who thinks typing will bring the ceiling down). Lopate captures speech so believably, it's easy to trust his memory for long-ago conversations. Craftily etched scenes draw readers into his second-grade classroom, onto a subway ride, along streets and into watching Samson and Delilah. The emphasis in the latter three sections, on Lopate's public life, veers toward the journalistic. Lopate revisits his experiences as a poet in residence and creative writing teacher at a New York City elementary school, recalling teaching writing with examples from student work, putting on Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and dealing with the disruptions wrought by the 1968 school strike. Lopate's political analyst voice emerges in his provocative essay "Resistance to the Holocaust." He also displays his prowess as a movie critic, sharing a close analysis of Godard's Contempt. The final section closes the circle with a return to the private, with the witty "Portrait of My Body," an evocative tribute to Donald Barthelme and a moving account of his father's last days. Having edited the popular The Art of the Personal Essay (1994), Lopate is both legatee and guardian of the genre. Photos. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/29/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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