Sure-handed verse work in multiple registers.



In a new collection “for travelers,” Milligan sometimes races and sometimes tools along; no matter the speed, it’s a pleasing ride.

In a recent interview, former Globe Theatre director Mark Rylance argued that much of Shakespeare’s brilliance is his control of the demotic, his acknowledgment that the real power of poetry may not lie in the words only he can say but in the words we all can say. Veteran poet Milligan (Lost and Certain of It, 2006, etc.) understands this concept, as well, and his latest book is a rushing river that spins and eddies around a few well-placed stones of utterly common speech. “Strings,” a sort of elegy for lost parents, opens with the exhausted “good grief, Daddy,” and slips away with the simple refrain of a woman whose mind has abandoned her: “now, who are you?” Around such vernacular anchors, Milligan builds a poetic structure characterized by balance (the “arabesque” of the title is a ballet pose demanding poise). The poet divides his book into three parts; the first and third feature relatively short stanzas and clipped lines while the second is full of longer prose poems “written at speed.” Most poets work well in one mode, either economy or abandon. Milligan can do both with grace. “Waiting for the Tow” is a study in brevity that teeters but never quite falls into the gnomic; it opens, provocatively, “The day is severed: / planned from unplanned, / necessary from / necessary now.” By contrast, “Four-Stroke,” a longer piece from the middle section, spreads out: “If ever you spent much quality time on the hurricane deck of a trusted motorcycle then had to give it up—trading it in, say, for a station wagon to haul around your rock band or maybe pay a tuition bill or buy an engagement ring—then you’ll recognize the symptoms of the syndrome.” That no word is wasted in either type of poem demonstrates the poet’s experience.

Sure-handed verse work in multiple registers.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9970353-0-8

Page Count: 100

Publisher: West End Press

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2016

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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


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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