The Work of Poetry

The Work of Poetry

by John Hollander
     
 

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New and classic essays by one of America's most distinguished contemporary poet-critics, The Work of Poetry surveys an extraordinary range of poets, from Dante to May Swenson, and George Meredith to Marianne Moore, as well as works from the Psalms to A Child's Garden of Verses. By turns generous and uncompromising, Hollander champions the

Overview

New and classic essays by one of America's most distinguished contemporary poet-critics, The Work of Poetry surveys an extraordinary range of poets, from Dante to May Swenson, and George Meredith to Marianne Moore, as well as works from the Psalms to A Child's Garden of Verses. By turns generous and uncompromising, Hollander champions the enduring force of poetry against the incursion of fashionable writing. This is an elegant, uncompromising affirmation of the extraordinary powers of poetic imagination from a poet whose poems have been hailed by J.D. McClatchy as "ways of thinking on paper."

Editorial Reviews

Frank Kermode
For every intelligent reader with a passion for poetry.
Choice
Scholars interested in Hollander will welcome this book as the celebration of a long and accomplished career.
Daria Donnelly
Densely allusive, richly autobiographical, digressively informative, and crowned by brilliant close readings that are Hollander's particular genius, these essays provide a crash course in poetry: what it has been, what it is, what it gives us when it is good, how poems work, what makes a poem masterful.
Ian Tromp
For me the great pleasure of Hollander's book lies in his discussion of specific poems.
Paul Dean
These essays are more engrossing and rewarding, for me, than the readings of particular poets which close the volume.
Poetics Today
This book shows Hollander at his best. . . . Hollander . . . displays in these essays an acute sensitivity to the special ways poetic language is organized and the manner in which such organization influences perceptions of reality. This kind of sensitivity enables the reader to share something of that attitude to language that, according to Hollander, characterizes the poet.
Library Journal
Hollander (English, Yale), a recipient of the Bollingen Prize in 1983 and a five-year MacArthur Fellowship, has written a treatise on poetry that would never be considered easy reading. Of course, that was hardly his intent. Hollander instead aims at the understanding and appreciation of poetry, a goal he achieves by looking at, studying, and ultimately dissecting all that is poetryand what pretends to be. The pretenderswork from certain literature programs and writing workshops and trendy writing from would-be poets lacking original thought, insight, and technical skilldo not fare well. Neither do some writers of free verse. As Hollander observes, free verse is very easy to write if one does not know how; good poets know how. Hollander's discussion of good poets is not only enlightening, compelling, and demanding but also spiritual and caring. His views on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Lewis Carroll, Marianne Moore, May Swenson, and particularly Walt Whitman certainly will move readers to a new level of comprehension, not only of the specific works but also of poetry itself. His book is, among other things, a critical response to poetry and, therefore, an exacting reading experience, but the rewards are diverse, as is the bounty. Highly recommended for serious literary collections.Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., Ind.
Booknews
A collection of new and classic essays, from the 1950s to the 1990s, touching on poetic originality and the power of poetic language, and criticizing modern university literature and writing programs. Part I explores the nature of poetry and the poet, while Part II examines the relationship between poems and the individual poet or reader. Part III deals with poets themselves, with readings of work by poets including Walt Whitman, Robert Penn Warren, Lewis Carroll, and May Swenson. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
John Kennedy
"Required reading for poets and readers of poetry." -- The Antioch Review
Kirkus Reviews
Cautionary words about poetry from an idiosyncratic and surprising critic and poet.

Hollander, usually regarded as a conservative observer of things poetic, both lives up to his reputation and defies it willingly in this essay collection. The Yale professor (and Bollingen Prize and MacArthur fellowship winner) predictably decries, for example, the dominance of creative-writing programs in contemporary America, blaming them in part for the rise of underachieving free verse and for an oversupply of poets who may not deserve the name. "Free verse . . . is very easy to write if you don't know how," he comments, convinced that many self-styled poets don't. "Good poets know how," he notes—as if we couldn't figure that out for ourselves. At his best, Hollander abandons contempt and complaint in favor of real eloquence and mindfulness. For instance, his essays about poets May Swenson and Elizabeth Bishop are models of insight and stylistic clarity and tact. Anyone interested in poetry or criticism must read them. Hollander on Swenson: "Let words play with each other and they will do the imagination's work. As she herself observed in the preface to a selection of her poems that she'd made for children and that highlights the matter of puzzle and riddle in all poetry: `Notice how a poet's games are called his "works"—and how the "work" you do to solve a poem is really play. . . .' Very, very good poetry does indeed make temporary poets of its readers, just as the inventiveness of poetry is itself so often a kind of interpretation." Hollander's comparisons and contrasts among poets are often beguiling, as in his consideration of Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the relationship between poetry and dreaming. His imagination is unpredictable and stimulating, especially when he does not assume too much about his audience's familiarity with, or views on, poetry.

He smites, he laments, but he also enlightens.

Commonweal - Daria Donnelly
Densely allusive, richly autobiographical, digressively informative, and crowned by brilliant close readings that are Hollander's particular genius, these essays provide a crash course in poetry: what it has been, what it is, what it gives us when it is good, how poems work, what makes a poem masterful.

English Studies - Paul Dean
These essays are more engrossing and rewarding, for me, than the readings of particular poets which close the volume.

PN Review - Ian Tromp
For me the great pleasure of Hollander's book lies in his discussion of specific poems.

Commonweal
Densely allusive, richly autobiographical, digressively informative, and crowned by brilliant close readings that are Hollander's particular genius, these essays provide a crash course in poetry: what it has been, what it is, what it gives us when it is good, how poems work, what makes a poem masterful.

— Daria Donnelly

English Studies
These essays are more engrossing and rewarding, for me, than the readings of particular poets which close the volume.

— Paul Dean

PN Review
For me the great pleasure of Hollander's book lies in his discussion of specific poems.

— Ian Tromp

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231108966
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
09/26/1997
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 9.04(h) x 0.68(d)
Lexile:
1450L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Frank Kermode
For every intelligent reader with a passion for poetry.

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