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Thursday 29 September 2005
I read most of Helen Vendler's Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats (Harvard University Press) yesterday. Authoritative, if a little teacherly, Vendler's book is a pleasure to read. I'll review it properly over the weekend ...
Poetry has often been considered an irrational genre, more expressive than logical, more meditative than given to coherent argument. And yet, in each of the four very different poets she considers here, Helen Vendler reveals a style of thinking in operation; although they may prefer different means, she argues, all poets of any value are thinkers. The four poets taken up in this volume - Alexander Pope, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and William Butler Yeats - come from three centuries and three nations, and their styles of thinking are characteristically idiosyncratic. Vendler shows us Pope performing as a satiric miniaturizer, remaking in verse the form of the essay, Whitman writing as a poet of repetitive insistence for whom thinking must be followed by rethinking, Dickinson experimenting with plot to characterize life's unfolding, and Yeats thinking in images, using montage in lieu of argument.
Continuing the poetry theme, I was going to go on to read Adam Kirsch's The Wounded Surgeon (Norton), but John Palattella's damning article Prosaic Judgments in The Nation has put me off somewhat!
Michiko Kakuatani, writing in the New York Times (you have to register to see NYT articles, but it is free) reckons with The Wounded Surgeon Kirsch, the book critic for The New York Sun, has "established himself as a poetry critic of the very first order", but his colleague David Lehman called it "a book with a flawed thesis, a few valuable readings of poems and a mess of missed opportunities."
Posted by Mark Thwaite
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