A WAY OF HAPPENING

OBSERVATIONS OF CONTEMPORARY POETRY

A rare, reasonable critic strikes. If ``reasonable'' means alert and without apparent self- interest, as well as exuberantly free of academese, then Chappell fits the bill nicely. The novelist and poet (a winner of the Bollingen Prize) writes as though unconstrained by the imperatives of narrow professionalism that now tend to dominate so much critical writing about literature. His approach is humble yet insistent (``a critic needs a strong motive, for the troubles are many and the pleasures are few''). With brio and even, sometimes, with humor, Chappell explores first books by poets; the ``political bias'' displayed in many anthologies of poetry; the work of current women poets in the South; and the uses (and misuses) of maxims in poems. Although he writes for knowledgeable readers, he won't frighten off the provisionally interested newcomer. That's because Chappell has managed to bring a sense of discovery even to familiar subjects. In his opening essay, ``Thanks but No Thanks,'' for instance, he both questions and justifies the critic's mission, criticizing some perils and errors of reviewers: ``If a poet too habitually in the company of other poets may run the danger of making her work derivative, then may not a critic too often surrounded by other critics risk being faddish?'' However, the perennially thorny subject of teaching writing doesn't show Chappell at his best. In ``First Night Come Round Again,'' a laborious piece of extended polemic, he pompously considers the situation of ``Mr. Creative Writing Teacher,'' who seems to be respected by no one for trying to do the apparently impossible: instructing students in writing poems, etc. Chappell also misses an obvious opportunity to expand the means and range of voice possible for criticism now; as a traditionalist, he is not especially eager to write against the grain, unfortunately. But his traditionalism is fair, clear, vigorous, and sane.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18033-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1998

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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