Dickinson’s Nerves, Frost’s Woods: Poetry in the Shadow of the Past

William Logan. Columbia Univ., $35 (352p) ISBN 978-0-231-18614-8
This book of essays from poet and critic Logan (Guilty Knowledge, Guilty Pleasure) strains to resituate famous poems. Revisiting and critiquing the arguments of mid-20th-century new criticism, Logan claims that focusing solely on poetry’s artistry “amounts to willful neglect” of its history, thereby justifying his own “historical-biographical-archeological” method. Logan’s chapter titles suggest the unexpected friction produced by pairing singular poems. In the essay “Shelley’s Wrinkled Lip, Smith’s Giant Leg,” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s masterpiece “Ozymandias” is compared with his contemporary and rival Horace Smith’s poem of the same title, which also describes a ruined, ancient statue (specifically, a “gigantic leg”) in a desert. The less-than-revelatory insight offered is that Shelley’s poem is better because “a disembodied granite arm has pathos, a granite leg nothing but bathos.” Elsewhere, Logan lists a “roll call of influence[s]” that Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams may have encountered when composing their respective short imagist poems, “In a Station of the Metro” and “The Red Wheelbarrow.” While the accrual of potential influences is intriguing, it buries the poems in discordant, hypothetical data. Longtime poetry readers may find Logan’s selections overly familiar, while newcomers will find his academic references forbidding, leaving it unclear which group Logan hopes to reach. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/14/2018
Release date: 06/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 978-0-231-54651-5
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