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Broadly appealing. Poetry enthusiasts will delight at Held’s formal ingenuity, while those who normally shudder and run at...

Held, George

AFTER SHAKESPEARE: Selected Sonnets ?ervená Barva Press (86 pp.) $15.00 paperback 2011 ISBN: 978-0-9831041-9-3 (paperback)   A deft collection, tragic and whimsical, that pushes back the conceptual and formal boundaries of the sonnet.   With a conceit borrowed from the Elizabethan stage (and page), Held (Phased, 2008, etc.) opens this varied and limber compilation with a four-poem “Prologue” that works to introduce the project at hand, to prebuttally question its own merits and, finally, to defend its worth in modest terms. Demonstrating the formalist’s penchant for order, he organizes the remaining fifty-eight sonnets into three thematically and rhetorically precise divisions—“Giving Place,” “Apostrophes” and “Finding My Way”—while ranging over topics as varied as aging, the Kennedy family curse, tick-borne Lyme disease, the loss of faith, nostalgic whiffs of adolescent lust and the apocalypse. Held evokes a world delineated by violent tragedy. In “How Dad Died,” he writes of “the hole over / his right ear just beginning to crust, / his Smith & Wesson cradled on his chest”; [17] in “Chuck,” a college freshman, at the very moment of all-too-rare transcendent happiness, is decapitated in a car wreck; [62] and “Walt” is found “at 33, Colt .45 / By your outstretched hand, your head crowned by blood.” [64] His response is to decoct the most essential and powerfully defiant and fully-embodied moments, to call back to life the Walt who “at 10, in a lightning storm, / . . . . . / Faced the downpour and thunder with a scream: / “Fuck you, God! Kill me now, I double dare you!” [64] His subjects rarely go gentle, and like his own slant-rhymed, sight-rhymed, sprung-rhythm verses, their best moments come when they break the rules. This defiance shines in his paean to the painter Alice Neel: “Never one to kneel / To what the age demands, ‘This is my mien / At 80,’ you declare; ‘I have no regrets!’” [14]. A few poems would not be missed if cut, such as the pun-choked “Miss Lucid” or the weakly-developed satirical “New Fears,” but these are few and do little to affect the quality of an outstanding collection.  

Broadly appealing. Poetry enthusiasts will delight at Held’s formal ingenuity, while those who normally shudder and run at hearing the very word sonnet will question those connotations when they encounter the form reimagined and reinvigorated by Held’s lively pen. 

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-9831041-9-3

Page Count: 71

Publisher: Cervená Barva Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

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