REPUTATIONS OF THE TONGUE by William Logan

REPUTATIONS OF THE TONGUE

On Poets and Poetry
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An accomplished poet (Vain Empires, 1998), and Univ. of Florida professor, Logan collects his fugitive essays and reviews for a second volume of criticism that firmly establishes him as the preeminent poet-critic of his generation—with none of the back-slapping mutual-admiration-society stuff that passes for literary comment these days. Logan’s hard-hitting reviews and carefully measured essays rely on wit, grace, and learning. Informed by his own experience as a poet, his prose ranges from (to use his words) “the exquisite pulse-taking of Eliot” to the “journalistic smash-and-grab of Randall Jarrell—: “The Condition of the Individual Talent” directly engages Eliot on the uses of tradition, a concern Logan refers to again and again. The Jarrell in Logan surfaces especially in his short reviews: He dissects Creeley’s “quiet squalor of sentiment—; Edward Hirsch’s ’sentimental grotesque,” and C.K. Williams’s “maudlin self-regard verging on self-pity.” Logan also attends to the progression of careers: J.D. McClatchy’s “tortured prettiness” evolves into “a gorgeously gloomy beauty—; and Seamus Heaney’s later work suffers from “the palsy of early canonization.” A brilliant close reader, Logan can also sweep aside established reputations with a single stroke, whether analyzing Ashbery’s “arrested aestheticism” or Ginsberg’s “courage of cracked individualism.” Essays on Merrill, Auden, Bishop, Hecht, and Justice celebrate Logan’s elders, and in Gertrude Schnackenberg’s work, he finds the gold standard for his generation. Fully a fifth of this fair-minded volume concerns Geoffrey Hill, whose own prose serves as “the unguarded back door to the design of the poetry,” which itself has “the ability to make poetry matter.” For all his traditionalist instincts, Logan is no fogey, and his opinions are seldom predictable, though all his work reflects a profound sense of literary history—no small feat in the current debased climate for verse. If criticism is a “higher form of gossip,” as Logan modestly avers, then he’s the Walter Winchell of critics: tough-minded, fearless, and dead-on. His stray pieces—written for newspapers as well as scholarly journals—add up to a masterful survey of contemporary verse.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8130-1697-5
Page count: 258pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Florida
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2000