Critical Conditions

Barbara Guest may finally be getting the level of recognition accorded her differently gendered New York School peers. She, too, began in 1950s New York, taking cues from modern abstract painters; she, too, pursued a modernist version of beauty through several decades of now-influential verse. Guest collects her challenging shorter essays, talks and even some poems about poetry in the long-awaited Forces of the Imagination: Writing on Writing. Some pieces remain provocatively abstract, advising us to "Respect your private language"; others return to the poet H.D. (whose biography, Herself Defined, Guest has written), pursue links between verse and visual art, or trace Guest's own development: "I grew up under the shadow of Surrealism." For Guest, "The person inside a literary creation can be both viewer and insider. The window is open and the bird flies in." (Kelsey Street [SPD, dist.], $12 paper 112p ISBN 0-932716-51-X; Dec.)

After three volumes of verse and three academic monographs, the formidable H.L. Hix (Surely As Birds Fly) collects his polished, earnest prose about poetry in As Easy As Lying. Hix admonishes fans of one kind of poetry to try and read all the others, and unpacks refreshing admiration for thinkers (Charles Bernstein, for example) whose tastes and positions seem far from his own. Discussion of how poets think and what young poets should read sit (sometimes uneasily) beside collections of Wittgenstein-esque aphorisms, short takes on new poets' work, and intelligent if now dated essays on the past and future of the New Formalist movement from which Hix's first admirers emerged. (Etruscan [SPD, dist.] $17.95 paper 148p ISBN 0-9718228-3-2; Dec.)

Despite his five collections of poetry, William Logan remains best-known as a strong-willed reviewer; his determined attacks—and his carefully crafted praise—turn up regularly in Parnassus, the New Criterion and the Washington Post. Logan's third collection of reviews and essays, Desperate Measures, finds his well-turned, sharpened sentences in fine form. Logan (a professor at the University of Florida) proffers careful appreciations of Frost, Geoffrey Hill, Robert Lowell and several minor masters of inherited forms (Edgar Bowers, J. V. Cunningham), but also blasts away at Ashbery, Bly, Merwin, Les Murray, Jorie Graham and other contemporary targets. (Univ. of Florida, $34.95 336p ISBN 0-8130-2562-1; Dec.)

Poet Gregory Orr (The Caged Owl) takes an altogether more personal, more speculative, tack in his first book of prose, Poetry as Survival. Orr, who teaches at the University of Virginia, begins by suggesting that "culture evolved the personal lyric as a means of helping individuals survive existential crises": "the personal lyric," he writes, "clings to embodied being." Orr traces that being through a series of essays on Wordsworth, Dickinson, Hardy, the Holocaust, Akhmatova, Amichai, anthropology, medicine and other major authors and subjects. Many of Orr's clear and inspiring chapters seem meant not only as poetry criticism, but also as encouragement for poetry students or other beginning writers. (Univ. of Georgia, $44.95 232p ISBN 0-8203-2427-2; $19.95 paper -2428-0; Dec.)

Showing how one can work from "Pulse and Impulse," "Shapes Merging and Emerging" and even "Against Your Beliefs," poet W.D. Snodgrass offers a series of well-tempered how-tos in To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry. Snodgrass, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Hearts Needle (1960) remains influential, gives prosodic examples from Whitman, shows how to add just the right amount of acid to parody and gives sound advice on all sorts of syllabic manipulations. (BOA [Consortium, dist.], $18 paper 238p ISBN 1-929918-18-6; Dec.)