Soul Says

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Join Professor Helen Vendler in her course lecture on the Yeats poem "Among School Children". View her insightful and passionate analysis along with a condensed reading and student comments on the course.

To know the poetry of our time, to look through its lenses and filters, is to see our lives illuminated. In these eloquent essays on recent American, British, and Irish poetry, Helen Vendler shows us contemporary life and culture captured in lyric form by some of our most celebrated poets. An incomparable reader of poetry, Vendler explains its power; it is, she says, the voice of the soul rather than the socially marked self speaking directly to us through the stylization of verse. "Soul Says," the title of a poem by Jorie Graham, is thus the name of this collection. In essays on Seamus Heaney, Donald Davie, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Rita Dove, Jorie Graham, and others, Vendler makes difficult poetry accessible. She reveals the idiosyncratic nature of lyric form, and points out the artistic choices present in even the simplest texts. Vendler examines the use of abstraction in lyric poems; considers what readers seek and receive from verse; describes the role of such stylistic devices as compression, structural dynamics, and syntactic ordering; and renders a wide variety of poetic styles meaningful. Through her perceptive eyes we see how lyric poetry, speaking with natural musicality and rhythm, can by arrangement, pacing, metaphor, and tone create symbol from fact-and fill us with new understanding. In these direct and engaged commentaries, she explores the force, beauty, and intellectual complexity of contemporary lyric verse.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books - Denis Donoghue
[review of Soul Says, The Given and the Made, and The Breaking of Style]
Helen Vendler is justly admired as the author of critical studies of George Herbert, Keats, W. B. Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Her current project is a study of Shakespeare's sonnets. She is also the most influential reviewer of contemporary poetry in English: her reviews of new books of poetry appear frequently and forcefully in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Parnassus, and other journals. Soul a collection of her recent reviews...[H]er gifts are so immense...The new books have a number of such [acute] analyses, continuously alert to the detail of the poems...One of the pleasures of reading Vendler's criticism is that of seeing a poet's achievement lavishly appreciated...The most valuable chapters in the three new books are those in which Vendler leads us through difficult poems...After [she does so], the poem is still to be read, and read again, word by word, line, sequence, image cut into image. We have to get back from the discursive model, which Vendler so clearly describes, to the local movement and texture of the poem. But after Vendler's commentary we are in a much better position to do so. I cannot think of a better justification for a critic's work.
Boston Globe - Robert Taylor
[In this] engrossing consideration of lyric form, Vendler again demonstrates--if proof were needed--why she is the finest poetry reviewer in this country...The 32 essays include a brilliant summation of A. R. Ammons' 'Sumerian Vistas' and lively discussions of Donald Davie's 'Collected Poems,' the menacing midnights of Charles Simic...Such are Vendler's felicities--inspiriting enthusiasm for the art and an attendant close reading in which her readers hear the poet's voice afresh.
Los Angeles Times Book Review - R. S. Gwynn
Helen Vendler's credentials precede her by a length and a half...That a non-poet (and an academic to boot) should wield such influence over American poetry is remarkable...She is at her best when discussing individual poems or passages, especially in the cases of a sonnet by Seamus Heaney, when she performs a brilliant analysis of the relationship of rhyme to reason, and in several sections of Ashbery's 'Flow Chart'...She believes in a common reader and wants to elucidate the difficulties of contemporary poetry.
World Literature Today - John Boening
If there is one commentator on contemporary poetry whose reviews bear gathering and reprinting, it is Helen Vendler...Vendler's readings help us to hear, and to discern, the sounds of the soul speaking.
STAND Magazine
The English reader wanting to know more about [Rita] Dove and other recent American writers will find Vendler's enthusiasm infectious and her acceptance of the poetic art in its own terms helpful. As well as the essays on Ginsberg and Dove I found the work on Adrienne Rich, Jorie Graham and Seamus Heaney particularly valuable.
Booklist - Patricia Monaghan
Vendler's New Yorker reviews of contemporary poetry, collected here, are revelatory of her critical stance. She does not look for content, she says in her introduction, but for felicity of language. A poem, she argues, rises beyond the occasion that created it. She is interested, then, in poems that define a human voice and emotion...One of our most accessible critics, Vendler is fluent, impassioned, and immensely learned.
Library Journal
Harvard University professor Vendler has written extensively on poetry. In this collection of 21 short essays, she discusses the lyric poetry of 23 contemporary poets, mostly American, including Allen Ginsberg, Rita Dove, James Merrill, and Dave Smith, giving particular attention to Seamus Heaney and Jorie Graham. In analyzing individual poems, Vendler describes the stylistic choices the poet made and how the completed poem reveals the inner self, or "soul," of the poet. Though her biographical readings may not suit all readers, anyone interested in contemporary poetry can learn from her insights. People new to poetry will especially appreciate her lucid discussions, which are unencumbered by academic jargon. All but two essays were previously published, ten in The New Yorker, between 1987 and 1994. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Judy Mimken, Boise, Id.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674821477
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 860,649
  • Product dimensions: 0.59 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Vendler is A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 The Reversed Pieta: Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish" 9
2 Flower Power: Louise Gluck's The Wild Iris 16
3 Veracity Unshaken: A. R. Ammons' Sumerian Vistas 23
4 Recomposed and Clarified: James Merrill's The Inner Room 34
5 Southern Weather: Dave Smith 43
6 Huge Pits of Darkness, High Peaks of Lights: Robinson Jeffers 52
7 New York Pastoral: James Schuyler 62
8 Imagination Pressing Back: Frank Bidart, Albert Goldbarth, and Amy Clampitt 71
9 Election and Reprobation: Donald Davie's Collected Poems 92
10 A World of Foreboding: Charles Simic 102
11 American Zen: Gary Snyder's No Nature 117
12 A Steely Glitter Chasing Shadows: John Ashbery's Flow Chart 130
13 A Dissonant Triad: Henri Cole, Rita Dove, and August Kleinzahler 141
14 The Black Dove: Rita Dove, Poet Laureate 156
15 Drawn to Figments and Occasion: Lucie Brock-Broido's A Hunger 167
16 Second Thoughts: Seamus Heaney's The Haw Lantern 177
17 A Wounded Man Falling Towards Me: Seamus Heaney's The Government of the Tongue 192
18 Earth and Ethereality: Seamus Heaney's Selected Poems, 1966-1987 201
19 Mapping the Air: Adrienne Rich and Jorie Graham 212
20 Married to Hurry and Grim Song: Jorie Graham's The End of Beauty 235
21 Fin-de-Siecle Poetry: Jorie Graham 244
Credits 259
Index 261
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