The Work of Poetry

John Hollander, Author Columbia University Press $85 (368p) ISBN 978-0-231-10896-6
In some two dozen essays, the distinguished poet and Yale English professor Hollander (Tesserae) explores poetry's ""peculiarities, strangeness, ambiguities."" Like that of his friend and Yale colleague Harold Bloom, Hollander's criticism is rigorous, idiosyncratic and often bracingly contrarian, the product of an acute poetic imagination and intelligence. In his view, poetry criticism now mainly consists of ""adducing the manifest or latent evidence, in the poem, of the repressive nature of the society in which it was written"" or of ""glossing"" the poem ""in the psychobabble that has largely replace the mildly religious popular discourse of an earlier time."" Hollander's aesthetic is more concerned with what words suggest than what they mean, with concealment rather than confession: ""[A] poetic childhood consists in misunderstanding a good bit of what one hears and sees, in being too reticent to ask for the solution to puzzles of pattern and meaning... and then resorting to one's own private versions of what was meant."" Informed by a deep knowledge of scripture (both Hebrew and Christian) and of classical poetry and rhetoric, Hollander writes with a kind of baroque austerity and magisterial authority. Among his affinities are the Elizabethans, the 17th-century metaphysical poets, the romantics and the high modernists, as well as individual poets less widely appreciated (Meredith, Stevenson, Stickney, Swenson and ""England's major poet of our time,"" Geoffrey Hill). Though he laments that ""the American Imagination is such a latecomer to the feast of grandeur,"" Hollander himself richly partakes of that feast. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/10/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
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