The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Redefinition

Helen Hennessy Vendler, Author Harvard University Press $14 (154p) ISBN 978-0-674-35432-6
In a few provocative pages, Harvard professor and author of the NBCC winner Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets, once again demonstrates her talent for smart and sympathetic reading of poetry. She looks at four poets and their particular uses of a donnee (meaning theme but derived from the ``given'' of the title): for Robert Lowell, it is the persistent drive of history; for John Berryman, the mischievous and frightening id; for Rita Dove, the color of her skin; for the trilingual Jorie Graham, the problem of translating thought into language, into phenomenon. Almost all of the chapter on Berryman is devoted to his brilliant, funny and disturbing Dream Songs, while in Dove, Vendler follows differing, equally intriguing manipulations of her theme from ``Parsley'' to Thomas and Beulah and Grace Notes. Perhaps most interesting, because personal and poetical are so vividly intertwined, is her examination of Lowell. Vendler carefully outlines his changing interaction with history and its effect on his style, from the often overwrought public historical passions of The Mills of the Kavanaughs and the more intimate history and form that followed his parents' deaths and his own bout with manic depression. Although she occasionally gives in to the lure of such words as victimage and necessitarian, which tend to reflect dully on her usually lucid style, it's a small thing in her subtle, beguiling essays. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/18/1995
Release date: 09/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 138 pages - 978-0-674-35431-9
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