VAIN EMPIRES by William Logan


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Logan's fourth book of carefully crafted verse picks up some of the themes of his last (Sullen Weedy Lakes, 1988): the folly of empire, the vanity of political ambition, the hypocrisy of established religions. A master of historical anecdote, Logan reaches from ancient Rome, where Pliny the Younger writes of his uncle's death from the volcano at Vesuvius, to modern Zimbabwe, where a British spook changes allegiances with the shifts in power. In between, van Gogh delivers a stem sermon, in stark colors, on sin and self-abasement (""Van Gogh in the Pulpit""); a Renaissance prelate regrets his role in burning witches (""The Burning Man""), and a medieval abbot prophesies an age of evangelism, and is proclaimed a heretic (""Joachim of Fiore""). Logan's virtuosity reveals itself in poems that mix high and low, sacred and profane to witty, even epigrammatic effect. His long tour de force--Keats's observations on a trip to India, had he lived--is typically learned and allusive, without ever being academic or dry. And his flights of fancy, domestic and classical, represent a triumph of impersonality, a poetry of statement that harbors not a single shallow thought.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
Page count: 82pp
Publisher: Penguin