From Publishers Weekly
In this 14th collection of his own verse, the much-honored Howard (The Silent Treatment
) returns to the kinds of poems that made him famous: elaborate dramatic monologues, impersonations and dialogues that are intricately alert to literary history and sexual desire. The first and longest poem imagines a three-way exchange of versified letters among Henry James, his California-based niece and L. Frank Baum, the man who created Oz. Another poem comprises a tetchy interview with the mother of Medea, the cruel princess of Greek tragedy and myth. A central sequence consists of letters from a comically (if morbidly) articulate fifth-grade class that asks its teacher to imagine a world without sexual intercourse . Pulitzer Prize–winner Howard is also nationally known for his translations (over 150 from the French), and what James (one of Howard's perennial models) called the international theme is again very much in evidence here; so is the abstract style the mature James himself did so much to invent. In these thoughtful new poems, Howard offers, and excels in, sophisticated verbal comedy, making his personae of all ages show and say more than they know. (Oct.)
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Few American poets are as urbane as Howard, whose dramatic monologues, verse epistles, and, in this book, voice-mail messages in the personae of famous modernist writers and artists, odd historical figures, and their and his friends have been amusing and bemusing readers for five decades. This collection begins with a set of letters about the 1904 attempt to effect a luncheon meeting of Henry James and L. Frank Baum and ends with Hugh Walpole’s memoir of Edith Wharton’s machinations to get James the Nobel Prize, which he apparently never noticed, though he understood at a glance what Walpole’s brief murmurings with a theater usher portended: sex, of course, which Howard reminds us underlies the social facades and undergirds the identity of even the desperately cultivated, from preadolescence (“School Days”) to burgeoning manhood (“Pederasty,” the translation of sonnet by the teenage Proust) to looming senescence (“Mind under Matter”). And so high culture meets the stuff of gossip, to discover that betimes they are twins. In any event, as Howard presents them, they’re utterly, intelligently delightful. --Ray Olson