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Breathing Room: Poems Hardcover – September 26, 2000

4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After more than 35 years of poetry collections, memoirs, criticism and editorial work, Davison announces that the poems of his 11th collection "mostly assume a single poetic form," one he borrows from the late work of a greater ombudsman, William Carlos Williams. But where Williams's achieves an intuitive elegance through triadic-footed tercets that matched the breath, Davison's free verse tends to go slack along with the material it carries, like the old pal the speaker catches "calculating/ whether life with her might not be/ very convenient, considering her parent's/ money." More at home as a naturalist than a nostalgic storyteller, Davison strikes a keener music when strolling through a "Seaside Summer Quarry" ("Sentried by sabers of iris,/ bared granite rocks/ jut up// from the soft starry beds of/ emerald moss") or observing how "Falling Water" will join "its first// brook and amble off into the yielding/ soft-shouldered marsh past fat roots of/ lilies to linger among the slick fronds// of algae paddled by ducks." Davison, however, is more prosaic when taking on the relationship of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, whether problematically adopting Plath herself as the speaker in "Sorry" ("When I woke up my cheek was full of maggots./ In the hospital they broke my head/ with lightning bolts. Everyone was so kind.") or, even more presumptuously, collaging snippets from some of the couple's more famous poems (Hughes's "Lovesong" and Plath's "Daddy" and "Edge") in a "Ballad" commemorating their "immortal mismarriage,/ their language// splintered and splayed/ in the throes/ of brutality." The effect is not cathartic, transgressive or celebratory in any sense. Davison opens his book with "No Escape" and closes it with the very same poem (only in italics), but readers may have already gone out the back by then. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

"Poetry composes, not as modern Western music often does but for the human breath," says Davison, an award-winning poet and editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Nothing revelatory here: Charles Olson put forth a nearly identical thesis in 1950. The poems feel equally staid: Davison's memories of childhood, family, and lost loves are of passing interest, and the moment he veers from specific events, the poems deteriorate into trite generalizations, as when they're addressed to a distant "you." Other pieces pontificate, while still others, such as "Prayer to the Verb," are too whimsical to be considered serious. Forays into nature are ambitious (as in two poems adopting the snapping turtle's voice) but once again uninsightful and disappointing. Despite ten previous books of poetry, Davison has had more influence as an editor than a poet. Recommended for comprehensive collections only.DRochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375411046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375411045
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.7 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,527,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The pros who reviewed this book have a different agenda than casual readers, I think. (Or is it that there are so few casual readers of poetry? I note that there are very few customer reviews of books of poems...) It seems to me that most readers enjoy having their emotions stimulated by use of poetic language and form, and are less interested in edginess, or newness, or technical fireworks. On that basis, I recommend reading the poem You, referred to by one reviewer as a trite generalization directed at a distant you. Doesn't feel trite or generalized to me--in fact, as it transports me into the experience of someone yearning for his dead mother (pretty specific, huh?) it makes me cry. I don't feel manipulated, just moved. I'm not lost in admiration of Davison's technical achievement, just moved. But I think that's what a poem should do.
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Format: Hardcover
The reviewer from Library Journal makes me laugh because she so misread the poem "You". I agree with the previous reader/reviewer, it is very specific, it is clearly addressed to the poet's mother, and it makes me cry too. One of the things that made me decide to change fields after getting my degree in lit was the overwhelming pretension and condescension of professionals, who seem to have forgotten that poetry isn't, or shouldn't be, only for an academic elite who make a career of exegesis.
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