WHATEVER IS MOVING: Essays by Howard Moss


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Poet/critics aren't always at their best when writing on poetry; Pound is an example of a poet who, in the main, was more probing when it came to prose. Moss is another. The poets dealt with in these essays--Whitman, Cavafy, Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Auden, James Schuyler--are treated intelligently, with sympathy, but also a touch muzzily. Conservative by nature, Moss avoids extremity whenever he can, even when it takes some doing. Dangerous situations in Cavafy's work, for instance, are shaded down into filigree, a very aesthetic dilution indeed: ""The homosexual gets to know the city in ways most people don't--strange places at strange hours. Secrets contain within themselves a hidden spring--the compulsion to reveal them--and this compulsion has something in it of the quality of history: the story not revealed, the truth under the appearance of it, the onion skin of facade endlessly waiting to be peeled away."" And on Elizabeth Bishop, Moss shuffles a dozen seemingly perceptive reflections of precision and geography so that they also suggest the opposites--abstraction, minuteness; it's one more addition to an unfortunate critical canon which threatens to make the worthy Bishop into the contemporary poet about whom you can say anything and have it come out a pious hurrah. But Moss improves when he moves to the novel. He's good when insisting, with dignity, on the weight of Elizabeth Bowen's work--and even better when he goes on to discuss the folds of artistry contained in Eudora Welty's two late masterpieces, Losing Battles and The Optimist's Daughter. Crisp and easily played-out, these pieces--and one too-brief essay on Proust, a Moss specialty--offer authoritative, enthusiastic studies; they're the standouts in an uneven, oddly tilted collection (all the writers, except for Chekhov, are either male homosexuals or women) from a modest, sometimes rewarding critic.

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown