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In this deeply philosophical and highly inventive new collection, John Hollander, the distinguished author of numerous books of poetry, offers profound yet playful meditations on the reflective mind and on the words with which we come to know the world. In forms as varied as sonnets, songs, and ancient odes, he muses over the ways we use (and misuse) language as “we grasp the world by ear, by heart, by head / And keep it in a soft continuingness.”
Here, too, are striking verses about the passage of time as recorded by the movement of light and shadow across a surface, whether it be the face of a clock or the enclosed walls of a Hopper painting. Throughout, Hollander delights us with mirrors, palindromes, and strange and surprising reversals that keep the mind ever alert with the challenge “to make words be themselves, taking time out / From all the daily work of meaning, to / Make picture puzzles of what they’re about.”
Donna Seaman has written of John Hollander, “His wise and robustly complex poems span the mind like stone aqueducts or canyon-crossing railroad bridges—awesome works of knowledge and craft, art and devotion.” In this exciting new volume, Hollander shows once again the reach of his poetic imagination.
"We play by ear but learn the words by heart": so explains the first of the many playfully intellectual poems in this strong 18th collection from the much-honored, Yale-based poet and critic. Hollander's considerable reputation rests in part on his wide, often whimsical array of forms, and this volume (more than its recent predecessors) excels in formal agility: blank verse, Sapphics, serial haiku and faithful adaptations from Horace's Latin wheel and spin from comic exclamations (like "pow!" and "blort!") through learned puns, philosophical disquisitions and even "grave accentuations cut in the rind of the earth." Some of the most ambitious poems here describe paintings, while others meditate more abstractly on the relations between seeing and listening, or between writing and visual art. More casual poems address, or remember, particular literary friends (some of them famous): "On a Stanza of H. Leyvick" moves "from the midcentury Village back to the New/ York of the Yiddish poets," while "From a Palace Diary" brings to new heights the poet's longstanding devotion to cats. Recalling both Wallace Stevens and W.H. Auden, Hollander (Tesserae, etc.) combines a reader-friendly alertness with intellectual sophistication; his poems try "to make words be themselves," "to/ Make pictures puzzles of what they're about," and in doing so develop an instantly recognizable take on "the mind's/ Complicating, fragile reflectiveness." (May) Forecast: Hollander's stack of awards includes a MacArthur "genius" grant and a Bollingen Prize, and he remains a preeminent literary scholar: more accessible, more fun and more Audenesque than Figurehead (1999), this book should surpass the attention that volume received. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved