The Secret Reader: 501 Sonnets


Willis Barnstone offers an amazing sonnet sequence on his double life -- and distinguished career -- as a scholar and an artist.
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Willis Barnstone offers an amazing sonnet sequence on his double life -- and distinguished career -- as a scholar and an artist.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Barnstone is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University and a scholar, translator and poet who has written more than 40 books. Suggesting here that formalistic poems ``dance in chains'' they try to slip, he tests sonnet structures as he uses them. Thoughts are closed mid-line, unusual end-rhymes occur and some of these 501 offerings seem good short poems rather than pure sonnets. Arranged in five groups (History I-V), the poems constitute a ``public history and private biography,'' as Barnstone notes in the introductory material. The personal poems are among its best: of father and brother, two suicides; mother, daughter; places he's lived. His range of knowledge informs powerful social, religious and political commentary as he writes about philosophers, poets (especially but not solely Hispanic and Chinese), death from AIDS, Tibet, a Stone Age mummy found in a glacier and, of course, himself (``Do I hurt? No. I'll be/ a will-less barn stone cool and on my own''). This prodigous effort offers rewards to grazers and those who read the sonnets in order. (Feb.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780874516609
  • Publisher: University Press of New England
  • Publication date: 1/1/1996
  • Pages: 440
  • Product dimensions: 5.53 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, Spanish, and East Asian Cultures at Indiana University, WILLIS BARNSTONE has written more than 40 books of poetry, scholarship, translation, and memoir, including Sunday Morning in Fascist Spain: A European Memoir (1995), With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires (1993), The Poetics of Translation (1993), The Other Bible (1984), and two books nominated for the Pulitzer Prize: China Poems (1972) and From This White Island (1959).
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Read an Excerpt

Thirty years of poems on scraps and blue
books. Once on a Greek island I had no
paper at all, wrote on my arm and drew
twelve lines, then glided like a UFO
(filled with a troop of angels) to the beach,
jumped in the sea. Verse washed out. Any isle
or thing will do. And so I scribble each
odd revelation, stuff it in a file,
and host each visiting new poet star
who beams us with fair words. Since writing's far
from peddling art, I should dump vanity,
sadness and greed. Good to create alone,
pure as a germ! Do I hurt? No. I'll be
a will-less barn stone, cool and on my own.
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