ON THE LAWS OF THE POETIC ART by Anthony Hecht

ON THE LAWS OF THE POETIC ART

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Published as part of the distinguished Bollingen series, this volume collects the six A.W. Mellon Lectures that Hecht (The Hidden Law, not reviewed, etc.) presented at Washington's National Gallery of Art in 1992. It's difficult to imagine that these academically complex sentences and paragraphs were ever read aloud. Rambling, extremely unfocused, they attempt to locate poetry in relation to the wider humanities environment, yet too often poetry seems the farthest thing from the speaker's mind: In ""Poetry and Painting,"" he speaks mainly of geometry's connection with the graphic arts; he is two-thirds of the way through ""Poetry and Music"" before there is any indication of interaction between the two arts or any shared relevance. Hecht states that he relies with all his trust upon what he knows as a practicing poet. Then he proceeds, through the first three lectures, to rely instead on the opinions of masters (Milton, Jonson, Plutarch), citing letters and well-known critical works as if he himself has no function other than to gather and present. Perhaps it's just as well. When he does venture out on his own, Hecht confronts readers with dry analysis reminiscent of high school English classes. In only two lectures -- ""Public and Private Art"" and ""Art and Morality"" -- do readers encounter the contemporary practitioner Hecht declares himself to be, but even then he exposes himself as a 70-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has spent a good portion of his most creative years within cloistered universities. As if to prove this the case, Hecht makes stodgy criticisms of a New Yorker poem by an NEA grantee, which, set against the backdrop of heated controversy over the endowment, inadvertently fuels the battle waged by Senator Helms and his supporters. Avid literature readers would do better to form their own opinions on the poetic art.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.