Selected Poems

Harvey Shapiro, Author, James Atlas, Introduction by Wesleyan University Press $14.95 (104p) ISBN 978-0-8195-2252-8
Shapiro's neat, mostly short and self-contained poems, work their magic in moderation. ""The Cry of Small Rabbits,"" for example, is sharp and fragmentary, somewhat enigmatic but satisfying in its smallness: ""Nobody would want to sing like that./ A short, high wailing. So what/ If death gave them voice to sing?"" Now senior editor of the New York Times Magazine (he has worked at that newspaper for more than 40 years and is former editor of the NYTBR), Shapiro shares the concerns of another Jewish New York poet, Delmore Schwartz (whom Shapiro knew), as pointed out by James Atlas in his introduction. Myths from Jewish folklore, tributes to friends, rabbis, or fellow poets and imagistic portrayals of New York scenes are dominant themes. Of these, the most accessible are the urban landscapes: ""On my block, on an August night,/ the air conditioners whir/ like wings trying to take off./ The whole city wants to escape this summer darkness"" (""New York Summer""). The least compelling poems are loaded with references to private events and occasions. Many of the religious poems, such as ""A Message from Rabbi Nachman,"" are all but unreadable to those unfamiliar with Jewish mysticism. Some of these poems, however (among them the long ""Battle Report"" and ""Cynthia""), prove that Shapiro can be patient, even masterful, in his exploration of a subject. These quiet portraits capture a New York City culture that is disappearing. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
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