A Draft of Light

John Hollander, Author . Knopf $26 (109p) ISBN 978-0-307-26911-9

The title poem of Hollander's 19th book of poems announces that ”light keeps one thing in the dark:/ The matter of its very origins.” With its turn on a colloquial phrase (“in the dark”), its investigation of philosophical problems and its interest in unanswerable questions, the punning claim typifies this sometimes didactic but ultimately moving collection. The Yale-based poet has always made his wide learning known: formal agility and literary history are once again on display—here are syllabics, deft haiku stanzas, virtuosic collations of off-rhyme and witty updates on the Romantic ballad, the medieval lament and the popular song of the sheet-music era. Half the volume might be classed as light verse—one poem pursues “Allegories on the banks of the Nile,” and another ends by asking “what's a 'meta-' for?” Yet the book shines when it takes up more serious concerns: the New York City of Hollander's childhood, which he recalls with delight, casts its retrospective light on old age, and some of the best stanzas use their wordplay to reflect on “what we have all been sentenced to, the full stop.” Detractors might find too much language about language, but admirers will respond that here we see one of the smartest writers having fun and exploring, with elegance and gravity, his own life. (May)

Reviewed on: 05/19/2008
Release date: 04/01/2008
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 112 pages - 978-0-307-49491-7
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