From Publishers Weekly
An esteemed critic of modern verse, Longenbach makes his poetic debut with this contemplative collection. Akin to Heaney both in form?gentle iambics distribute themselves over tercets, couplets and quatrains?and in his inclination toward the liminal in nature, Longenbach wanders to the edge of the wood and watches as the "trees shift uneasily." But purity's a lapsed ideal: litter and debris soil this terrain. A cast-off shoe, a condom and a fire's remains "guarantee there never were natural worlds/ The soul kept alone." The innocence of childhood, too, is lost by strange discovery. In "The Grace of the Witch" a gypsy-like girl dispensing sexual favors by the swings is marked by her transgression: "Block letters cut into her wrist spelled Paul." Such even-keeled revelations, however, can feel too smooth and wearied, too rehersed. The consistency of tone?intelligent, darkly ruminative, unequivocal?may be the only sort of solace one can hope for here, stripped of lust and lustre. Like the great Modernists on whom he has written so capably (Modern Poetry After Moderism; Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats and Modernism), Longenbach places his mind against every external thing and creates artifacts of language at the borders and boundaries: "We've learned/ These stories told about the natural world/ And now, dissatisfied, we pass them on."
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From Kirkus Reviews
paper 0-226-49247-8 From the author of a handful of distinguished academic studies of modern poetry (Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism, 1988, etc.), a debut collection thats surprisingly direct and fresh-sounding, and bears none of the he avy allusiveness one might expect from this Univ. of Rochester professor. Which is not to say that Longenbach isnt high-minded and, at times, relentlessly abstract, but his crisp phrasing and thematic consistency make this a volume worth sticking with: hi s meanings accrue with each poem. Meditative and often somber, Longenbachs measured verse explores the boundaries between human and spiritual existence, between man and nature, between parent and child, and between the everyday and the transcendent. He ne atly avoids sentimentality in a number of poems on children: The Origin of Angels lingers on his daughters sleeping form; Play with Me records a painful test of wills; and two poems (A Dog, a Horse, a Rat and The Possibilities) imagine the worstthe loss o f a child. Longenbachs unabashed domesticity leads him to contemplate its foundation in houses: a burglary disturbs by what the burglar leaves behind (Burglary), how real, he wonders, is real estate (Real Estate), and a burnt-out house reveals a randomnes s (Any House You Know). Prominent among the books thresholds are rites of passagethe transgressions of childhood, loves first treacheriesas well as the desire to escape solitude through the stories of others. Longenbachs wonderfully circular Threshold of the Visible World exemplifies his keen metaphysic: all in all, an impressive debut. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.