The title poem of Hollander's 19th book of poems announces that "light keeps one thing in the dark:/ The matter of its very origins." With its turn on a colloquial phrase ("in the dark"), its investigation of philosophical problems and its interest in unanswerable questions, the punning claim typifies this sometimes didactic but ultimately moving collection. The Yale-based poet has always made his wide learning known: formal agility and literary history are once again on display-here are syllabics, deft haiku stanzas, virtuosic collations of off-rhyme and witty updates on the Romantic ballad, the medieval lament and the popular song of the sheet-music era. Half the volume might be classed as light verse-one poem pursues "Allegories on the banks of the Nile," and another ends by asking "what's a 'meta-' for?" Yet the book shines when it takes up more serious concerns: the New York City of Hollander's childhood, which he recalls with delight, casts its retrospective light on old age, and some of the best stanzas use their wordplay to reflect on "what we have all been sentenced to, the full stop." Detractors might find too much language about language, but admirers will respond that here we see one of the smartest writers having fun and exploring, with elegance and gravity, his own life. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A Draft of Lightby John Hollander
Here are poems that explore the ways in which ordinary objects open doors to the more hidden, subconscious truths of our inner selves: a bird of “countless colors” calls to mind “the echo . . . / of an inner event / From my forgotten past”; a subway bee sting conjures
A glorious new collection from one of our most distinguished poets.
Here are poems that explore the ways in which ordinary objects open doors to the more hidden, subconscious truths of our inner selves: a bird of “countless colors” calls to mind “the echo . . . / of an inner event / From my forgotten past”; a subway bee sting conjures up quick unlikely visits by the muses—a momentary awareness that is “as much of a / Gift from those nine sisters as / Is ever given.”
Other poems lay bare the imperfect nature of our memories: reality altered by our inevitably less accurate but perhaps “truer” recall of past events (“memory— / As full of random holes as any / Uncleaned window is of spots / Of blur and dimming—begins at once / To interfere”). Still others examine the dramatic changes in perspective we undergo over the course of a lifetime as, in the poem “When We Went Up,” John Hollander describes the varied responses he has to climbing the same mountain at different points in his life.
In all of the poems Hollander illuminates the fluid nature of physical and emotional experience, the connections between the simple things we encounter every day and the ways in which the meaning we attribute to them shapes our lives. Like the harmonious coming together of bandstand instruments on a summer afternoon, he writes, most of what we come to know in the world is “A dying moment / Of lastingness thenceforth / Ever not to be.”
Throughout this thought-provoking collection, Hollander reveals the ways in which we are constantly creating unique worlds of our own, “a draft of light” of our own making, and how these worlds, in turn, continually shape our most basic identities and truest selves.
From the Hardcover edition.
The author of 18 collections of poetry and eight books of criticism, Connecticut poet laureate Hollander has been acclaimed for his formal verse since the publication of A Crackling of Thorns(1958), selected by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets award. Here he continues the tradition with sonnets, ballads, haiku, and variations of these forms. As one would expect of a poet whose work has been set to music, Hollander sees poetry as an oral art even though it is first written on paper. What one might not expect from this 78-year-old poet is the wordplay, lighthearted tone, and general mischievousness that seems to come trippingly from his pen-to paraphrase a line from Hamlet, a technique with which Hollander is very familiar. This volume's title poem, for example, ends with a paraphrase of T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding." Other poems paraphrase Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wallace Stevens, and Joyce Kilmer, to say nothing of William Shakespeare. Like Shakespeare, Hollander fuses a somber tone with comic conventions, resulting in the poetic equivalent of the problem play. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
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Read an Excerpt
Monday Morning Today we’re having the windows washed . . .I think of how such a journal entryMight have proceeded if written by anActual novelist or superbEpistolarian (known for her acidEye, gentle heart and platinum tongue)Or essayist of an older sort,All of whom had memorious eyesAnd capacious memories for details:Their “powers of observation” makeMe feel blind to the moment andMindless of just what was said or worn.The true novelist’s mandarin proseOf whatever mode makes up its ownRecordings of what it made take placeOn disks themselves made up of yearsOf recycled detailed remembrancesThat I don’t have to draw or write on.But I’ll give the window washers a try.Let’s see: I’ll at least remember thatThere were three of them, and one came firstTo case the joint, as it were, and thatAll of them were of medium height,Slender and dark and that they didIndeed clean all the windows, inside andOut, hanging on safety strapsAbove the distant ground. That’s it.But my own windows that look outOn the immediate world–the onesThrough which they used to say the soulPeers out and love comes in–get washedOnly by tears, and what I knowOf what’s out there comes in through oneOf the cleaner spots. Their sizes andTheir placement are both meaningless,And make me wonder about whatI get to see, whether of windows–And what goes on when they get cleanedAnd who said what to whom and whoDid which and with what–or of mirroredEyes or imagined minds. So thatIn the matter of the men who cameTo clean the windows, what could I say?“If memory serves . . .” but it will not:And like language itself when atIts best or even craziest,Ich dien it will not say–like eachDutiful Prince of Wales for sevenCenturies–but rather nonServiam, the Adversary’sNo way! At the instant of starting upThe engines of noticing, memory–As full of random holes as anyUncleaned window is of spotsOf blur and dimming–begins at onceTo interfere, and so one’s eyesBrim with forgetting long beforeThe presence of a pastness, earsCan’t quite recall what they are hearing.That’s all there is to say aboutThe windows being washed today.A Draft of Light We all had to wear hats against the unvarying sun, Of course; but what was more significant,We’d had to bring with us–along with our freshly prepared Thoughts, wrapped up in the old way–bottled lightTo quench any thirst for knowledge that walking through the dry Valley of grayish terebinths and stillLizards on chunks of fallen Hellenistic masonry Might intensify through the lengtheningAfternoon. Bottled? Well, all the available light, there In that valley uninflected by muchShade, was barely fit to drink and having to bring our own Along was always part of the bargain.When the light is too fierce for shadows to blossom in it, Too dry for any specificity,Too general for distinctness, too literal for truth, What else, after all, can a person do?Given that to think one’s private thoughts of light were Somehow thereby to drink some of the fluidLight that is at once itself, and what of it is brought forth Again both by all that it makes visible,And by what those who see and say have ever said of it, As a flower whose name one knows jumps out–Not merely in its saturated blue but in its changed Look–from the chaos of these petaled thingsAnd those surrounding it. But light keeps one thing in the dark: The matter of its very origins.Though babble’s tall outrageous tower fell, crumbling under The weight of its own presumption, LanguageHad a different tale to tell of itself: that it once Contracted to an insignificantPoint which nonetheless contained all the Meaningfullness that There was to be, and then, this being quiteUnbearable, exploded into all the languages, Chunks flying apart in such differentDirections! And then there were only all the languages. Likewise with Light before there were the hostOf private lights reflected by each brush, dot, or pixel Of all the surfaces of the seen world,The world as seen. An untold story, this, and for The matters of mass and energy we callMind, quite immaterial, but not to the substance of Our long walk. Quite the other way: our walk–Yes . . . nearing, but not at, its end, pausing there, just before Leaving the valley for the pine forestBetween it and the sea, we stopped to drink what was surely Ours by right–we’d carried it alongThe whole long way–and long swallows of it now allowed us Rightly to claim to know now where we wereGoing, rightly, at last, to know where we’d been all along And where it was that we had started from.The Remains of the Clarinet –Well, just the bell, really, and weHope, not kept in the far worse hopeOf being cleverly used–likeThe violin, painted mauve, topRemoved, passed around by the neckFull of mixed nuts or else servingAs a very silent butler;The kettledrum, beheaded, nowA planter; the French horn fixed onA stand, bell up, now a yawningAshtray. But this gently flaringEbony tube, ringed with metal,The bell gazing ceilingward andResting on an obsolete deskDictionary that itself liesOn a dusty table must beSpared the ravages of cutenessThat would stand some pens and pencilsIn it, or conceal a narrowBud vase in its base with a fewSprigs of lily of the valleyMight peek coyly over its rimLike white ladies on a tower.I’d want it to stand open and empty,Like a shell that is both ear andMouth at once, speaking of all itsSinging past and of its presentListening, and then listeningTo the silence of what it nowHas still commandingly to say.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
JOHN HOLLANDER is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry. His first, A Crackling of Thorns, was chosen by W. H. Auden as the 1958 volume in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. He wrote eight books of criticism, including the award-winning Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse and The Work of Poetry, and edited or coedited twenty-two collections, among them The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, and (with Anthony Hecht, with whom he shared the Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1983) Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls.
Mr. Hollander attended Columbia and Indiana Universities and was a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows of Harvard University. He taught at Connecticut College and Yale, and was a professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. In 1990 he received a MacArthur Fellowship. He died in August 2013.
From the Hardcover edition.
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