Some Necessary Angels: Essays on Writing and Politics

Jay Parini, Author Columbia University Press $85 (288p) ISBN 978-0-231-11070-9
Parini (The Last Station) got his title from a quote by Wallace Stevens extolling ""the necessary angel of reality."" Without it, says Parini, ""we can have no poetry, no imagination, and no politics....We must learn to sit down before reality like small children, open mouthed, attentive. This is the beginning of art."" If a combination of awe and actuality makes for good art, it also makes for fine essay writing. Here, Parini has selected essays from the past 25 years that move smartly from the particular to the general. He begins by hooking the reader through personal writings such as appreciations of mentors Alastair Reid, Robert Penn Warren and Gore Vidal, followed by equally elegiac recollections of ""Town Life""--at college in St. Andrews and while teaching at Dartmouth and, now, Middlebury College. Having found his study ""just too damn quiet,"" Parini began ""Writing in Restaurants,"" and now spends part of every workday in Calvi's ice cream parlor in Middlebury, where from the porch ""that somewhat perilously overhangs Otter Creek and its waterfall, the noise of that waterfall is white noise squared."" The second section consists of poetry criticism in the stricter sense--keen insights into, and perceptive excerpts from, Warren, Reid, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney and Charles Wright. In the last section, Parini covers larger subjects, including his brilliant ""Fact or Fiction: Writing Biographies Versus Writing Novels,"" in which he weaves the Vulgate phrase verbum caro factum est (the word made flesh) into a scintillating essay on the shaping of reality. Eloquent, clear and learned, without being pedantic, these essays provide a voyage into delight. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/17/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-231-11071-6
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