From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
[review of Soul Says, The Given and the Made, and The Breaking of Style] Helen Vendler is justly admired as the author of critical studies of George Herbert, Keats, W. B. Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Her current project is a study of Shakespeare's sonnets. She is also the most influential reviewer of contemporary poetry in English: her reviews of new books of poetry appear frequently and forcefully in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Parnassus, and other journals...[H]er gifts are so immense...The new books have a number of such [acute] analyses, continuously alert to the detail of the poems...One of the pleasures of reading Vendler's criticism is that of seeing a poet's achievement lavishly appreciated...The most valuable chapters in the three new books are those in which Vendler leads us through difficult poems...After [she does so], the poem is still to be read, and read again, word by word, line, sequence, image cut into image. We have to get back from the discursive model, which Vendler so clearly describes, to the local movement and texture of the poem. But after Vendler's commentary we are in a much better position to do so. I cannot think of a better justification for a critic's work. (Denis Donoghue New York Review of Books)
[A] stimulating meditation on four significant American poets by an indispensable critic...Here [Vendler offers] four cool-headed, serenely selfless essays that originated as the T. S. Eliot Lectures given at the University of Kent. Her subject is the characteristic obsessions guiding the work of Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Rita Dove, and Jorie Graham, each of whom, in Vendler's view, has transformed obsession into art...The particular virtue of Vendler is to write with the authority of a scholar and the alertness of a contemporary about a form of art too often deluged by arcana, professional jargon, literary back-patting, or neglect...A literary challenge and a companion for the common reader, whoever that may be, of 20th-century poetry. (Kirkus Reviews)
In the collections of essays The Breaking of Style and The Given and the Made Helen Vendler...firmly positions herself as one of our most authoritative voices on modern and contemporary poetry. Already an authority on Keats and Stevens among others, Vendler moved several years ago into the realm of contemporary poetry, where she has quickly established herself as a major critic. Vendler has always been a skilled practitioner of close reading, but in the essays of these two volumes she becomes an articulate apologist for the intensive attention to details of style and form that has come to be identified with New Criticism. Eschewing the current hegemony of theory in literary scholarship, Vendler makes the case in these essays that not only is there still a place for an exclusive engagement with the details of textual analysis, but to fail to address the details of a poem's making is to ignore its physical presence. (Mary Kaiser World Literature Today)