Selected Poetry

John Hollander, Author Alfred A. Knopf $27.5 (338p) ISBN 978-0-679-41931-0
The simultaneous publication of Hollander's latest work and his selected poems invites both a comparison and an appraisal of his career. The poet himself seems to be summing up his work and life; the subtext of Tesserae , sometimes buried under layers of form and allusion, is death. Hollander began as a formal poet, and has remained one, Audenesque in many respects. And while current poetic trends call for a structural looseness and emotional pitch that can be every bit as confining as formalism ever was, much of Hollander's power seems to have ebbed. A good formal poem binds the energy within it in productive, restless tension, as exemplified in his ``Late August on the Lido,'' a kind of Death in Venice in verse; here, Hollander shows that the power of experience can be enhanced by the form which recasts it. So also the frank and sometimes bitter eroticism of ``Sonnets for Roseblush,'' which shows how much room there is in form, if one is willing to push back. But the danger of formalism is that a poet can spend too much time just bouncing the ball off the backstop, and the peril of erudition like Hollander's is a gradual avoidance of the unknown. In Tesserae , a series of freestanding quatrains, form seems to have overwhelmed content, and the images are often remote from reality. It is hard to conceive of a ``laureate earth'' which ``hums elegies and lies about each life,'' still more so ``bookish snow,'' and ``the lively poison / Of interestingness.'' Increasingly, Hollander's poems resort to inversion, polysyllabic rhymes and the accents of another age, though some recover the facility and eloquence of his earlier work: ``The self-sustaining ardor of a bright / Candle-flame, steady in this windless night, / Reflected in its tiny cup of oil: / It draws from its own image heat and light.'' (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1993
Release date: 04/01/1993
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-679-76198-3
Open Ebook - 299 pages - 978-0-307-80515-7
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