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Manderley: POEMS (National Poetry Series) Hardcover – November 7, 2001
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These poems expose all feeling as rhetorical, as at least partially created by our descriptions of it. Our rhetorical self-descriptions create discomfort, a sense of not fitting in or being completely honest and genuine. That discomfort is a source of despair and ironic amusement in the book. In Manderley, even the past is revealed as a mode of self-description. Stories we tell ourselves of the past both poison us and give us life. There are a number of magically eerie tales in the book that remind me of Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" in their stark moral cynicism: one poem ends, "you must indeed follow children around,/endlessly, or they will kill themselves/at every opportunity."
The constant observation and meta-observation in the poems is very funny, an amusing mix of cocksure, pithy commentary and near-laments. Either mode is soon turned upon by the wary speaker, who lets nothing get by without "self-critique". For Wolff, irony isn't a negative, unproductive stance.Read more ›
Throughout Manderley we encounter many possible theorems and theses of art. Lines like "Imagination has never been a friend to me" or "Real content is mystery" or "Words being / the fracture of genesis." Even where these statements disagree, the poet is not contradicting herself. Manderley is a constant figuring-out that will overlook no possibility; Wolff has not made the common mistake of mistranslating the famous edict make it new as throw it all out. Her formidable intellect and reading are mustered to explore "The basic / subject that of experience in question." ("Broads Abroad: Elizabeth Bishop & Jane Bowles").
This question makes good poetry. "Spending the Day on a Sleeping Porch" is a gentle minor masterpiece.Read more ›
Interim Magazine commissioned me to write the piece. I explained the conflict-of-interest issue to the editor, who wanted me to write it anyway. So, to ensure Interim readers knew what they were getting into, I explained exactly who I was. It's your right to know where I'm coming from so that you can make some estimate of my bias. It's also my right to make my opinions about Manderley public.
But enough about me-read the book and decide for yourself.