Trappings

Richard Howard, Author
Richard Howard, Author Turtle Point Press $14.95 (81p) ISBN 978-1-885983-43-5
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
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This first collection in five years from the renowned translator (Gide, Baudelaire, Barthes, etc.), editor, critic and homme de lettres et bons mots, frolics among chatty, artsy figures sardonic enough to laugh at themselves without losing their urbane sense of control. As usual, Howard's consistent--perhaps insistent--attention to art and its milieu is compelling for the dramatic contexts he unfailingly provides; even poems not meant as monologues come off as such, so dominant is the rhetorical tone in which personality, style and whimsy playfully meet. His voices, whether appreciating Renaissance court-life, Canaletto or Muriel Rukeyser, are clearly related, each speaker adroit at allusion and cute word-play (""a manatee must emanate""). Such animated pairings are the plat du jour, inspiring mad confrontations between 19th-century models and artists (Balzac sitting for Nadar in ""Avarice 1849: A Distraction""; ""Eugene Delacroix: Moorish Conversation, 1832""), or a Tanning sculpture's parts: ""She came to him in dreams, as he to her/ in waking. And that was how they would meet,/ ever wrong from the start, however right/ for the act."" The volume's centerpiece is the sequence ""Family Values,"" each of its five parts musing on a different depiction of Milton dictating Paradise Lost to his daughters, from the perspective of the daughters (""Only because I see my sisters hiding/ are they hidden too from the sightless seer/ who is our father""), sly, worried curators and professionals. Other discursions, like ""Mrs. Eden in Town for the Day"" or ""Our Spring Trip,"" a letter from a fifth-grader to her principal, revel in suburbia, while a scattering of poems on gay life are poignantly immediate compared with the poet's more cagey cast of characters. A moveable feast. (Oct.)
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