Memoirs of Lothar Zogg
More John Berryman: Syntax Boldly

Shapiro! Wilbur! Zappa[?]! Paglia!

♣ Apropos of my earlier mention of Karl Shapiro (down here), I was looking through a stack of articles, reviews, etc., that I had previously printed and saved, and I came across a May 2003 essay by Joseph Epstein in the Weekly Standard, "The Return of Karl Shapiro?"  Epstein describes Shapiro as "an unsuccessful poet of considerable significance":

[T]oday, when asked to name the key poets of Shapiro's generation, most people at the English-major level of culture would answer Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, and (less likely) Delmore Schwartz and Theodore Roethke. All were poets who fell to insanity and alcoholism, or, in Wordsworth's phrasing, in their youth begin in gladness;/But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness. Karl Shapiro never cracked up. Instead he made a few crucial decisions, took a number of significant positions, that went a long way toward scuppering his career.

Before getting on to this, though, it needs to be said that John Updike's compilation of Karl Shapiro's poems--a selection of the strongest poems from the various books of poetry Shapiro published over a long career--is a splendid reminder of how good a poet Karl Shapiro could be. One of the first things to be said about Shapiro's poetry is that, various though it is, it is never gloomy. A pleasure in life, in its richness, variety, and oddity, informs many of his poems, even those that verge on the dark, such as "Auto Wreck," a poem about coming upon an auto crash as a young man on his way home after leaving the bed of a lady friend. The arbitrariness of death by such a cause is what rightly strikes him:

For death in war is done by hands;
Suicide has cause and stillbirth, logic;
And cancer, simple as a flower, blooms.
But this invites the occult mind,
Cancels our physics with a sneer,
And spatters all we knew of denouement
Across the expedient and wicked stones.

♣ Epstein was writing on the occasion of the publication of the Updike-edited American Poets Project selected edition of Shapiro's verse.  The Project is one I endorse when it brings out collections by poets whose work is otherwise hard to come by -- such as Shapiro, Yvor Winters, or Kenneth Fearing (also author of the noir classic, The Big Clock, which tells you a lot about his poetry) -- and its marvelous collection of the Poets of World War II (previously discussed here).  The Project is less useful when putting out editions of poets who are already easily to be had, such as Whitman or Poe.  (The Poe volume is edited by Richard Wilbur.  I am an enthusiast for both Wilbur and Poe, but the combination of the two in this case strikes even me as unnecessary.)  Overall, the Project's virtues significantly outweigh its weaknesses, so I commend the entire series to your attention.

♣ And speaking of Richard Wilbur, Mike Snider links to an appreciative New Yorker review of Wilbur's freshly published Collected Poems 1943-2004.  His earlier career overview (1989's New and Collected Poems) is one I revisit frequently, as is his slim volume from 2000, Mayflies (the only collection he has issued in the interim).  Despite the substantial overlap, this new "Collected" will likely be hard for me to resist.

♣ Changing directions more than somewhat: Professor Althouse last Saturday linked to a New York Times book review, by Camille Paglia on Frank Zappa, which I finally got 'round to reading while cooling my heels in a Van Nuys courtroom this morning.  The review itself offers a useful overview of Zappa's career, but for me the most intriguing item comes at the end, when the Times provides identifying information for the review's author:

Camille Paglia is university professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her new book, ''Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems,'' will be published in March.

[Italics original; underscoring added; enthusiastic expostulation follows:]

New Paglia!  Paglia on Poetry (emulating perhaps her beloved mentor, Harold Bloom?)!  What fun!  But please, dear Professor Paglia, when will you finally get around to publishing the concluding volume of Sexual Personae?  You've only gotten as far as Emily Dickinson and I'm desperate to know how it all ends. (Meanwhile, "Break, Blow, Burn" is available for pre-order.  It would make a great stocking stuffer, if only Christmas came in April.)

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.