Criticism
Review: The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion Print E-mail
Criticism

didion(San Diego Union-Tribune September 19, 1996)

A Postmodern Disaster

What's a reader to do when one-bewildered-third of his way through Joan Didion's The Last Thing He Wanted, a novel ostensibly about arms-smuggling to the Contras in 1984, the story's mercurial narrator announces she has "lost patience . . . with the conventions of the craft (i.e., novel writing), with exposition, with transitions, with the development and revelation of `character' "? A reader can a) persevere, b) marvel at the artistic feat of salvaging some intrigue from the wreck of obscurity, or c) lose sympathy with Didion's characters, who appear to be no more than sacrificial pork penned in the cold-war sty of Ronald Reagan-led misadventure in Central America. Can-do kinds of readers can do all three: persevere, marvel and lose touch. Persevering, we meet Elena McMahon, a reporter for The Washington Post and a well-to-do divorced mother of a disconsolate grown daughter.

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Review: truth and lies that press for life: Sixty Los Angeles Poets Print E-mail
Criticism

0604_Art_Melancholy(Poetry Flash Number 223 July 1992)

Uneasy Confessions

Today, the prevailing trend in publishing poetry, besides presenting individual authors, is to publish the work of poets in community. Scan the anthology section of your bookstore's poetry corner and you'll see the packaging: the poetry of ethnicity (African-American, Jewish-American, Native-American); the poetry of gender and relationship (men's issues, mothers to daughters, incest survivors); and the poetry of place (Key West, Ohio valley, Oregon coast). But such grouping is not new to poets; they have already come together as working writers, developing themselves through communities that often fuse elements of the University writer's workshop, the coffee klatch, and (at times) the 12-step program. Poets organize in communities not only because of their identity, but also because they wish to create community, to commune, where a personal and shared poetry becomes their bread and wine.

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Review: Three 1991 Poetry Collections: Roger Weingarten, Maurya Simon, Lowell Jaeger Print E-mail
Criticism

kjugv(High Plains Literary Review. Vol. VI, No. 2, Fall 1991)

Poetry With and Without Feeling

After reading three poets of highly dissimilar focus I am again amazed at the truthfulness of a simple rule, one that may seem obvious to any reader. Poetry which forges with its subject a depth of feeling that is honest and personal and grave cannot be ignored.

But woe to that poetry which forges without feeling.

Of the three before us, Roger Weingarten's verse (Infant Bonds of Joy) has little in it to recommend. His emphasis on mercurial objects stirred with ponderous discourse succeeds too often in trivializing emotion. The result as Leonard Kriegel wrote of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography is "something missing . . . something essential, an absence not merely of the deeper self but of the very possibility of a deeper self."

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Review: Metaphor and Memory by Cynthia Ozick Print E-mail
Criticism

ozick(Pembroke Magazine Number 23, 1991)

Heart to Heart

For Cynthia Ozick essays are the houses of ideas, not the doorway to her personal experience. Consequently, in this collection of some thirty essays and reviews from the 1980s, she writes about herself only sketchily: She grew up in the Bronx speaking Yiddish and English; she fell prey to a few ethnic-hating schoomarms who lessoned out the oi sounds from her Bronx-cum-Jewish brogue; and at seventeen, she she kew she would devote her life to writing "literature."

Judging by her much lauded, complexly textured fiction—three novels and four story collections—her devotion (and talent) has produced some excellent work. Read the recent "A Shawl," the haunting story of a mother and her two daughters interned in a concentration camp and the shawl's nourishing power over their living and dying. The story is about self-disclosure and religious strength, subjects common to her fiction, and about Jews whose faith manifests itself struggling with annihilation or the temptations of secular life.

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Review: Circe's Mountain: Stories by Marie Luise Kaschnitz Print E-mail
Criticism

circe-lilli-ladewig(Northeast Series V, No. 3, Winter 1990-1991)

The Art of the Felt Story

Autobiographical fiction like clothing often attracts our attention not by the quality of the cloth but by the attitude of the wearer. That is to say writers who base their fiction on their own lives seem most honest about themselves when they are attuned to what Willa Cather called "the range and character of [their] deepest sympathies." Because they have discovered an awareness of their own sensibility by way of art and made such knowledge primary, they can make the best stylistic choices for their work. We feel a writer's stories of personal growth as truthful when the felt depth of the experience equates to the formal quality of the telling.

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Review: Eden by Dennis Schmitz Print E-mail
Criticism

Dennis-Schmitz-1(South Florida Poetry Review. Volume 8, No. 1: Winter 1991)

Surfaces to Keep

When I read any poem by Dennis Schmitz I feel that he achieves my attention with an insight which because I was lost in his language I was unprepared for. Which is another way to say his surface was training me all along how to read more deeply. To illustrate here’s the beginning of Schmitz’s “Instructions for Rowing.”

                   across the reflected sun the skiff cuts

                   should include diagrams

                   of the radius joint of the wrist,

                   a kind of human oarlock.

                   The island in his head the sweated rower looks at

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Review: American Poetry: Wildness & Domesticity by Robert Bly Print E-mail
Criticism

robert_bly(Poetry Flash Number 214 January 1991)

Riders of the Unconscious

When I studied American literature in graduate school, I took a course in the later novels of Mark Twain, offered by one of the most renowned Twain scholars in the United States, Roy Harvey Pearce. Obviously, since it was our first meeting we had prepared no assignment. And certainly Dr. Pearce would not cancel a three-hour evening class. So, instead, he read us an essay of his own that he had written twenty-five years earlier about the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, of course, one of the last lighter-hearted of the Twain works. Because the original essay wasn't long enough for our class, he added a whole second section, based brilliantly I thought at the time, on the final phrase of the previous essay. Something about "lighting out for the territories," a shadow place, whose darkness Twain's subsequent novels about the damned human race explored in depth.

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