Some time ago in The New York Review, Robert Mazzocco wrote that "if it is true Graves won't suffer fools gladly, it is even truer he suffers his betters not at all. His betters represent modernism, a bete noire." Naturally, Graves comes down hardest on his competitors, and in that notoriously cranky lecture, "These Be Your Gods, O Israel!" delivered at Oxford during the mid-Fifties, Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Auden, and Dylan Thomas are "unmasked." They represent, for Graves, fashionable poseurs who have never bothered "about the sense" of anything they wrote. Here he is scuttling Thomas: "I do not mean that he aimed deliberately off-target, as the later Yeats did. Thomas seems to have decided that there was no need to aim at all, so long as the explosion sounded loud enough." Graves' wit has always been chilly, but the elegance and forked gaiety which accompanies it in the poetry and which is so suitable to the patrician romanticist he is, has an off-putting effect in his essays. Discussing literary topics or techniques (the genesis of the word "baraka," for instance, or the "misdirections" of Keats, the "incoherences" of Blake: "Angels were thick on Blake's staircase: some divinely eloquent, some mouthing nonsense"), Graves usually gives the impression of speaking ex cathedra. Often you can cut the pedantry with a knife, and the opinions offered, when not consciously startling, rest on rationalist touchstones (the force inspiring poets is "love, controlled by reason") which are natty platitudes. Still, this is largely a fault of style or tone: beneath the magisterial bitchiness lies a very real attachment to art and craft.

Pub Date: July 25, 1969

ISBN: 0385018703

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1969

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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