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There are advantages to junking an old style for a new one, not the least in the air of astonishment it imparts. Karl Shapiro, a wheeler-dealer of WWII poets but largely out-of-things lately, returns with a quasi-surrealist volume, mostly prose poems or journal-jottings, quite unlike the formalist verse for which he is noted. The Stendhal epigraphs set the tone: a tough, wry sensibility, at times excoriatingly honest, subjective yet detached, anti-academic, anti-intellectual but still literary. Though the particular ingredients are often biographical, the themes are general: the way we live now, where we have been and where we are going. Allowing for the inevitable divergencies, Shapiro, who has obviously been reading. Miller, Bellow and the Beats, personifies the new vitalism in American literature; not so much modern man in search of his soul as his instincts. The old Audenesque influence is still around, but this time it is the early prophetic Auden of The Orators. Now does Shapiro's ""break"" necessarily mean a ""breakthrough""? No, not yet. Can we, nevertheless, mark the volume as an important opening into a new awareness, a new approach? Most definitely. However, Shapiro's besetting sin is a certain sourness of spirit, a hostility almost clinical, a prescriptive wrong-headedness; it ruins much of the trailblazing here in much the same way billboards ruin a countryside.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1964
Publisher: Random House