152. (Wallace Stevens)

When you start out with a feeling of alienation—from an unspoken, blank, or meaningless past—from a mass of others, or even single others, in the present–or from a future defined by a fraudulent and thin promise—the risks are either cynical withdrawal, refusing to believe that the estrangement can be overcome, or else sentimentality, the insistence that a momentary, blazing common feeling be allowed to outshine … Continue reading 152. (Wallace Stevens)

149. (Robert Lowell)

“Self-accusation,” writes Geoffrey Hill, “is the life-blood of Romanticism.” For a long time, I thought Lowell a late-Romantic, working back, through the reaction of modernism, to the lessons of the early nineteenth-century.  That is not right. Lowell does accuse himself, but whereas, in Hill’s view, self-accusation guards Romanticism against its own excesses, Lowell accuses himself for another end.  Forgiveness is his great subject and it … Continue reading 149. (Robert Lowell)

116. (Walt Whitman)

Whitman’s optimism can be felt as either of two extremes. He can seem (wrongly) the self-annointed prophet who insists on the glory beneath it all; he can also seem (also wrongly) the self-appointed friend (or more) who insists on your better qualities. For anyone inclined to irritation and disgust at world and self, the urge is to leave, to find a poet whose voice offers the … Continue reading 116. (Walt Whitman)

103. (Anthony Hecht)

They are almost “conversation” poems, but they offer too many explanations, the sorts of explanations of who the speaker is, of what they speaker refers to and knows; a conversation poem assumes familiarity with an audience. What makes Hecht’s poems seem so nearly conversation pieces is the fact of their being lyric expositions and narrations, rather than lyric dramatizations. The showing and telling, hearing and … Continue reading 103. (Anthony Hecht)

102. (Samuel Menashe)

Samuel Menashe (American; 20th c.) is not a witty poet, despite having written one of the best modern poems on wit: Sharpen your wit– Each half of it– Before you shut Scissors to cut   Shear skin deep Underneath wool Expose the sheep Whose leg you pull   Wit is brief and bracing. It conjoins and affirms the suitability of the conjunction by the rapidity, … Continue reading 102. (Samuel Menashe)

95. (Elizabeth Bishop)

The poems are about the failure to communicate or translate an esoteric, charged experience of the commonplace. Where poets who follow in her footsteps often fail, where their poems feel dull, is in the ease of the insight: the immediacy for the reader of what should, given its apparent dazzling splendor or titillating vibrancy, be hard won and inaccessible. Otherwise, why don’t we feel it … Continue reading 95. (Elizabeth Bishop)