The Late Romances: Poems

Eric Pankey, Author
Eric Pankey, Author Alfred A. Knopf $21 (88p) ISBN 978-0-679-45454-0
Reviewed on: 03/03/1997
Release date: 03/01/1997
""Someday he will learn to abandon/ The unsubtle harmonies/ But for now his hands reach for the chords/ He learned to hear long ago as music...."" So Pankey describes himself in an exhilarating fourth book full of unashamed counterpoints and echoes. Stevens reverberates in both the syntax (""Bells. Then afterward, the quiet after bells"" in ""Santo Spirito"") and the attitude (the excellent ""The Pear As One Example"" flirts with parody: ""None of it the pear/ But the otherness that is the pear."") Pankey takes from Stevens and his tradition-in this poem and ""Essay on a Lemon"" and the brilliant ecphrasis ""Melancholia"" and others-the courage to argue, to skip from description to proposition, from solemnity to wordplay. Occasionally, the arguments turn into sermons, for Pankey is a religious poet, whose fervor and questioning also bring Hopkins to mind. When one of these poems fails, the fault lies usually with an ending less skeptical, more complacent or penitent, than what has gone before (e.g., ""The seen-world,/ Unreflected in that glass, for this instant/ Is this. Is this, this, this, this, and this""). Except for the forceful, lovely ""To Christ Our Lord,"" Pankey seems on more solid ground in the persona of an unbeliever, as in his cycle ""Don Giovanni in Hell"" or his series of poems in Prospero's voice. Even at his least suave, however, Pankey's boldness commands respect. It will be our good fortune if he chooses not to abandon those unsubtle harmonies. (Feb.)