Email this review


Vliet's work has little to do with the essential modern tradition in poetry. The touchstones here suggest Vachel Lindsay and Edgar Lee Masters. Vliet favors regional settings (the Southwest or New England), colloquial diction sharpened by enjambments and a pithy use of particulars, a sense of the dramatic interlaced with humor, and a musical structure modeled on the picaresque. These elements work to unusual advantage in the long, 20-part ballad, ""Clem Maverick,"" which charts the rise and fall of a hillbilly pop singer, presumably inspired by the career of Hank Williams, and using the flashback gimmick of films. The actual characterization is trite: a rags-to-riches figure done in by sex, booze, and the almighty dollar, with a revival meeting God hovering over the proceedings. The variations, however, are buoyant, witty, and inventive, growing in irony and pathos as Clem takes on aspects of a doomed folk hero emblematic of the American dream and its commercialized degradation. It is the most pleasing genre piece since Robert Penn Warren's ""The Ballad of Billie Potts,"" though it lacks the latter's intellectual sophistication. The rest of the Vliet volume contains some shorter efforts--mostly descriptive or lyric works of people and nature studies--as well as two ambitious, overextended, and somewhat obscure prose poems along parabolic lines, sounding here and there like an unintended parody of St. John Perse.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1966
Publisher: Viking