Throughout these 23 review-essays, Bawer shows his love for poetry by attacking those who have allowed it, he says, ``to be turned into something that only poets read.'' Why poetry has become a literary stepchild is the subject of Bawer's thoughtful assessment of American poets from Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens to newer ones such as Dave Smith. Running through these critical commentaries is the theme that too many younger poets are caught up in romantic excess, that the influence of Allen Ginsberg and the Beats and the confessional self-destruction of Sylvia Plath have excused so much of the sloppy, informal and poured-out emotion of today's poets. Bawer is clearly puzzled by the attention given to many leading contemporary poets, but he also attacks poetry workshops, PBS's Voices and Visions series, literary interviews and critic Helen Vendler. There are times when one wonders just who or what Bawer does like. But he clearly cares about poetry, citing numerous examples to back up his opinions. He is on the side of the formalists and those for whom poetry is not a game of literary gossip. This book is an intelligent study by someone who has read and judged a great deal of poetry and criticism. (Sept.)
In these essays, which range from the Modernist and Imagist movements to the Beats and the confessional poets, Bawer (Coast to Coast, Story Line Pr., 1993) makes no bones about his position on literary figures or topics. He states in his preface, "When a society takes art seriously, it argues about it." He is ready to argue his theses and prepared to defend them. For example, William Carlos Williams has been hailed as one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, but Bawer reveals through scholarly explication why Williams's theories actually have been damaging to the state of contemporary verse. After reading "The Fictive Muse of Wallace Stevens," the reader walks away possessing a true understanding of his body of work. Many readers may disagree with Bawer, but the arguments are firm and serious. He also includes an essay criticizing the literary interview and its often banal and trivial dialog. These illuminating essays are highly recommended for literary collections.Tim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, Pa.
A rare pleasure: a richly detailed, erudite, and non-academic (huzza!) critique of literary modernism and postmodernism that is positively thrilling in its unabashed love of poetry and commitment to the project of restoring some semblance of order to its chaos (and the even greater chaos of its academic explicators [exploiters?]) in the late 20th century. Bawer's elitism may (and should) infuriate; his trenchant analysis should remind us of what is at stake. No index. (RC) Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)