A noted poet opines on other writers.
In this collection, award-winning poet Kleinzahler (The Hotel Oneira, 2013, etc.) gathers reviews, essays, and remembrances. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and a few of these biting and sharp sallies take their subjects and reputations to task. He admires Robert Lowell’s “enormous gift,” but his prestige is “much diminished” and his influence “has been baneful.” E.e. cummings is the “sort of poet one loves at the age of seventeen and finds unbearably mawkish and vacuous as an adult.” Richard Brautigan had a “lightness of touch [and] gorgeous timing," but “he wasn’t really very good….[I]t is pretty thin stuff: precious, self-indulgent fluff.” Kleinzahler can zero in on a work or writer like an eagle diving after its prey and snatch. The “clotted syntax” of John Berryman’s “much admired and little read” Homage to Mistress Bradstreet won’t let the piece breathe: “One feels the strain in its assemblage.” Kleinzahler likes to rescue lesser-known writers from obscurity. Lucia Berlin’s stories are of “a very high order and not always easy to take,” and the author also resuscitates poets Christopher Middleton, Roy Fisher, and Lorine Niedecke, “one of the most important and original poets of this past century. Kleinzahler much admires the poet Louis Zukofsky, a fine translator and author of the puzzling book-long poem “A,” which is “an unholy mess, an extraordinarily complex, often brilliant and heroic mess, but a mess.” There are affectionate portraits of two poets who influenced the author greatly: Thom Gunn, “one of the most important poets in the English language,” and the “shockingly neglected” Basil Bunting. Others discussed include Allen Ginsberg, James Schuyler, Leonard Michaels, and James Merrill. Kleinzahler also tosses in some personal pieces about music (and having too many CDs) and two hometowns, San Francisco and Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Tasty literary assessments served with a dollop of gossip.