From Publishers Weekly
Sometimes yielding valuable insights, sometimes flogging a team of long-dead horses, this collection of 22 critical essays by contemporary, mostly U.S.-based poets and critics, is the latest of many books provoked by the 1980s movement called New Formalism, in which Dana Gioia and others called for sonnets and clarity to replace free verse and obscurity. Poet Finch (Eve) made an earlier intervention with A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women, and concerns of gender inform contributions from Alison Cummings and Kathrine Varnes. Psychoanalyst and poet Frederick Fierstein discusses "Psychoanalysis and Poetry," while several contributors defend a push for more long verse narratives. Timothy Steele analyzes some specimens by 20th-century masters of compression (J.V. Cunningham, Louise Bogan); Gioia reappears with an unsurprising paean to his movement. Almost all these essays have appeared before in books or journals (though some are salvaged from obscure ones); the best have nothing to do with New Formalism, and everything to do with the particular forms and ideas about form they choose to discuss. Agha Shahid Ali continues his already-influential project of explaining how, and why, Anglophone poets can use the Persian/Urdu form called the ghazal. James Cummins' subtle analysis of the sestina form explains its attractions along with its difficulties. Marilyn Nelson shows in "Owning the Masters" how the master's tools may actually have some effect on the house. As Anne Stevenson declares convincingly, "The case for form is won with every good poem that's written--and then sensitively read." (Aug.)
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