With essays spanning more than 20 years, this collection provides a surefire introduction to Goldbarth’s prose—but the trip...

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MANY CIRCLES

NEW AND SELECTED ESSAYS

For those who think clearly written prose is for sissies, Goldbarth is back—with a representative essay collection that both dazzles and stupefies with its complications.

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for his poetry, Goldbarth is also an acknowledged innovator of the literary essay, with three collections to his credit (Dark Waves and Light Matter, 1999, etc.). Some of his best-known works appear in this collection, including “After Yitzl” and “Parade March from That Creaturely World” (both of which introduce his preoccupations with the movement of time and memory). All the essays display his trademark mélange of dense poetic phrasing, multiple story lines, historical events, and pop culture—which, for sheer bulk alone, is amazing. But while his knowledge of arcana, language play, and dexterity at interweaving stories (most notably in “Worlds”) may astound, it will also serve to keep readers away. The mounds of facts (whether about Madame Curie or Krazy Kat or Theseus) and overwrought phrases (about food, sex, the galaxy) are too much for the average well-read philistine. Reading through the mass of references and odd locutions on faith (and without a Columbia Encyclopedia at hand) erodes much of the emotional impact of the experience. The result is an admiration of Goldbarth’s work combined with very little enjoyment of it—and a perplexity as to what the point of his writing is in the first place. Is it to show the vastness of the human mind at work and the inability of two randomly meeting minds to connect? If so, why read?

With essays spanning more than 20 years, this collection provides a surefire introduction to Goldbarth’s prose—but the trip may not be much fun the first time around.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55597-321-3

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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