New England's master of light verse returns to familiarly sardonic territory in this, his seventh collection, which mixes dry wit and restrained verse-narrative with poems on surprisingly serious subjects. Among the latter: a mentally ill failed opera singer who roams a New Jersey town; the "crappy days" of 1950s patriarchy (and the aging men who often look back to them); and a "Ballad of [Constance] Fenimore Woolson and Henry James," describing the 19th century writers' Platonic romance (which James encouraged, then rejected) in the all-American rhythms of "Frankie and Johnny." Kennedy even clo the sometimes-somber volume with a clipped and saddened poem about September 11 (entitled "Sept. 12, 2002"). Devotees of the feuilletons and commentaries from which Kennedy made his name will certainly appreciate the volume's "Invocation," in which "sweet Meter" and "strict-lipped Stanza" "confine jubilation/ To tolerable order"; meter and stanza also guide Kennedy's tribute to Allen Ginsberg, in many ways Kennedy's polar opposite, whose "Glee and sweetness, freaky light" give the volume its name. Though less original (and less often laugh-out-loud funny) than its clear precedents in the midcentury poetry of George Starbuck or John Updike, Kennedy's work remains cultured, likable and witty.
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For over forty years, techincal virtuoso X. J. Kennedy has entertained readers with tightly constructed formal poems in colloquial language, and he reasserts his formalist credentials in his latest collection, The Lords of Misrule... [Kennedy] makes us understand why our world drives us to song.(Jay Rogoff Southern Review)
The Lords of Misrule contains poems that successfully inhabit the narrow ledge halfway down from the frosty summit of Arnoldian high seriousness and halfway up from the balmy vale of outright light verse. They also inhabit diners, opera houses, traffic jams, motorcycle rallies, pizza parlors, Saturday morning police courts, and even the gallows of Villon's Paris.(R. S. Gwynn Hudson Review)
[Kennedy] can be light and amusing, or tender and touching, or acerbic and cutting... The Lords of Misrule demonstrates convincingly his poetic breadth and vigor, and the depth of feeling that his verse can convey. The collection confirms his position as a preeminent voice in American poetry today.(Catharine Savage Brosman Chronicles)
Kennedy is often cited as one of American poetry's premier practitioners of light and satirical verse, and here he doesn't disappoint... [however], despite the frivolity supposed by the book's title, and Kennedy's often employed humor, many of the poems are more interested in death and the loss or stoppage of time... in what is one of the best poems written about September 11th, Kennedy brings both his meditation on death and his breath of new life together.(Jason Gray Smartish Pace)
Kennedy writes with contemporary sharpness and displays a mastery of tradition and technique.(Wilmer Mills Chattanooga Times Free Press)
New England's master of light verse returns to familiarly sardonic territory in this, his seventh collection, which mixes dry with and restrained verse-narrative with poems on surprisingly serious subjects... Kennedy's work remains cultured, likable, and witty.(Publishers Weekly)
Some poets... form part of a historically small but robust band whose spirits never seem to flag in their prolonged observation of the human concourse. Such poets, being able to maintain a witty engagement with life in all its forms and in a variety of stances, strike us as perpetually young and remain consistently readable. X. J. Kennedy falls into this company... [ The Lords of Misrule] happily shows that a poet can enjoy a constant upward curve in both mastery of craft and crispness of expression... This rich and varied collection [was] evidently assembled with a great deal of thought for theme, variation and contrast.(N. S. Thompson Times Literary Supplement)
There is absolutely no reason to read the poetry of X.J. Kennedy unless you appreciate form, balance, intelligence, wit, grace and the English language. In The Lords of Misrule... he combines a respect for order with broad humor and a spiritual sensibility, managing to be serious but not somber, comical but not foolish.(Robert Flanagan Columbus Dispatch)
X. J. Kennedy belongs to that class of uncompromising formalists that includes Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, Donald Justice and W. D. Snodgrass... Widely regarded, and occasionally disregarded, as a practitioner of light verse... he serves his light with a healthy dose of darkness; his best work is a tug of war between levity and gravity.(Eric McHenry New York Times Book Review)
Kennedy thrills in writing about the prurient sans prurience... these poems sometimes fall into astounding constellations.(Virginia Quarterly Review)
Philosophic and wry in their handling, here are poems on everything from deer ticks, police court, aspirin, cherry pie, Allen Ginsberg, airport bars, and homeless people in an Egyptian cemetery, to the most classic themes of love, death, nature, and history... In their jousting, funny, satiric moods, few readers will find in these pages a theme with which they cannot identify.(Kenneth Hart Journal of Jersey Poets)
Kennedy's verse is wonderfully successful and a delight to read. His work makes us think: How wonderful rhyme and meter are―I was to try that too!(Jack Foley, Station KPFA, San Francisco) See all Editorial Reviews