FIVE TEMPERAMENTS: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery by David Kalstone

FIVE TEMPERAMENTS: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Readers, writers, and critics of modern verse will find a great deal to think about in Professor Kalstone's somewhat weighty book. He has picked five of the most prestigious, influential poets now at work as instances of the urge to self-revelation in most recent poetry, a problem that began to surface, as he points out, with Wordsworth, and has been much intensified, as he does not say, by the post-Freudian popularity of intense speculation about the psyche. How naked can I get? how much to reveal of my experience? and how above all as a poet to convey my insight in words? Kalstone has selected his examples bemuse of the development of their styles as a medium for autobiographical expression (not confession; he dislikes that word). The five all began by writing formal verse, but as time passed and awareness grew, they honed new tools for their work. Robert Lowell is the most dramatic example; the shift from the discipline of his early Land of Unlikeness and Lord Weary's Castle is easy to see. And rich, of course, is resting from poetry now, speaking in other forms. The change is not so obvious in Elizabeth Bishop, but she too admits her own existence is her later work. Merrill and Ashbery seem to be more of a piece throughout, but Kalstone makes a case for his thesis in their poetry too: Merrill has come to terms with his childhood, Ashbery has cured himself of the vice of generality. . . Along with this thesis, Kalstone presents us with a lot of very close reading, amusingly similar in its methods to the work of the old New Critics. A serious book, itself needing very close reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press