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That Robert Shaw's first collection of poems should seem so unusual is a sign of the times. It is not windy, wordy, obscure, obscene, not even Oedipal. It is in the formal tradition of English-language verse, using sometimes rhyme, sometimes blank verse, and a comprehensible vocabulary. It deals with everyday themes, from the oddity of taking dinner with a very old lady in Boston, through childish reminiscences, to adult reflections on carving Jack o' Lanterns (against deadly flying things), or listening to a country house creak as it awakes at sunrise. A house burns down, a man is discovered hanged from his study chandelier: pictures sometimes odd, but never outre To call it light verse might invoke the ghost of Ogden Nash--but heavy and portentous it is not. ""No man, they say, is a hero to his valet./ Since I have always served as my own valet/ self-adulation rarely has overwhelmed me."" One is reminded of the young balladeering Auden, or of Robert Frost, countryman, so frank of voice. Shaw owes his debts, like any writer, but his voice is his own. ""Recessional"" is good, and a poem called ""The Poem,"" which turns old adages inside out. Maybe the nicest is entitled ""Aesop in Our Time,"" which after pleasant 17th-century moralizing, finishes up: ""And if I ever go to sing on Establishment Street and the ants open their doors,/ would I stoop to go in, perform and warm my feet?/ You bet I would. The moral is all yours."" Thoughtful and literate indeed.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press