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This second volume by the William and Mary English professor incorporates some of the strengths of those poets he’s written about in academic monographs, especially Robert Lowell, whose tragic sense of history is much like Hart’s (The Ghost Ship) own: incidents and figures from the past remembered from a somewhat altered perspective—through old dioramas found in a barn, the Lincoln Memorial covered in pigeons, or the reenactments of Williamsburg. The sad tales of America’s natives particularly haunt him, from Pocahontas to a drugstore Indian or a collection of —Indian-Head Nickels.— A sequence of stolid verses depicts the poet’s grandfather doing manly things at his Maine cabin (fishing, hunting), and then descending into the scattered memories of Alzheimer’s. Hart’s rough monosyllables often describe his boyish reveries in nature’sapping trees, picking apples—but his puerile innocence is interrupted by scenes of cold historical consciousness: A school play (in the title poem) recalls Kennedy’s Cold War; a game of warrior braves is undercut by Vietnam’s atrocities glimpsed on the TV; and building a tree-house ladder with his father ends with an argument about the war. Hart also channels real and mythic voices from the past: Admiral Byrd in Antarctica, Sylvia Plath skiing, Icarus in descent. Altogether, Hart’s Puritan plainness and his love of simple things and chilly landscapes make for much welcome clarity.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-252-06692-8
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998