A poet’s (poetical) prose about poetry. Walcott’s (The Bounty, etc.) humid rhetoric can overwhelm a subject, as when “I try to divert my concentration from that mesmeric gritted oyster of sputum on the concrete floor.” And so, a reader wandering through the periodically flowery byways and orotund arabesques of these 14 essays may long, instead, at times, for a more plainspoken, adamantine critical voice—like that, say, of poet-critic Mary Karr. Yet entwined here with the tricky verbal vines and orchids are also insights of an unusual provenance. West Indian—born Walcott’s views of current poetry and postcolonial culture are admirably independent and syncretic. He is able to take the measure of such stylistically distinct avatars as the relentlessly, redemptively flinty British poet Philip Larkin and American confessionalist Robert Lowell. Walcott spikes his intermittently languid reveries with comments that crackle: “Modern American poetics is as full of its sidewalk hawkers as a modern American city: this is the only meter, this is the American way to breathe, this is the variable foot,” he complains. That error isn’t his. Rather, the 1992 Nobel laureate explores, in the emphatic plural, poetry’s various islands, while diverging now and then to authors of prose. He claims Hemingway as “a West Indian writer” and salutes the Trinidadian C.L.R. James for Beyond a Boundary, termed by Walcott —a cricketer’s Iliad.” Still, our critic’s lens isn’t flawless. As an apologist for Ted Hughes, Walcott proves laughably sentimental: “Poets come to look like their poetry . . . Hughes’s face emerges through the pane of paper in its weathered openness as both friendly and honest. It speaks trust.” Rather conspicuously in an era of major contemporary women poets, the book omits positive mention of women (save for Dickinson) as anything more than muselike pretty faces; they are simply not part of Walcott’s poetic roll call. But so goes literary independence. An archaic male vanity makes some mistakes on the poetic prowl.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-28841-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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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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