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Notes on Current Books, Spring 1975

ISSUE:  Spring 1975

This collection of interviews with those who knew Ives in his youth and at Yale, with his associates in the life insurance business, with his family, friends, and neighbors, and with eminent musicians and artists interested in the man and his music, affords a fascinating insight into this most enigmatic composer, America’s “first composer of major significance,” as Aaron Copland says in his foreword. In a remarkable way the reader senses the presence of the man, his demonic intensity, the humor, the generosity of spirit, the obstinate independence, and the vision. Further, what is so importtant for an understanding of the composer, Ives is seen in the context of his New England heritage and American musical life in the first part of this century, for, as Copland also states, “only America could have produced a Charles Ives.” The musician will find the interviews with the eminent composer, Elliott Carter, and with the apostle of Ives’ piano music, John Kirkpatrick, particularly enlightening. Any reader, however, interested in music or not, will find the volume engrossing. Ms. Perlis must have done a superb job of editing the oral reminiscences.

Trumbull Stickney, by Amberys R. Whittle. Bucknell $8.75

Despite the appalling proliferation of commentary on poetry and poets in our time, despite the handbooks, the countless exegeses in countless learned journals, the mad scramble after increasingly obscure dissertation topics, Joseph Trumbull Stickney, one of our most sensitive and talented writers, has by some perversity of fate and taste gone all but ignored. He exists on the periphery of our attention, as a slightly precious figure, acknowledged chiefly by dismissal in the subordinate clauses of literary history. In fact, since Stickney’s death seventy years ago, only Amberys Whittle has made any sustained attempt to break a puzzling critical silence. His edition of 1972 made all of Stickney’s poems available for the first time, and his new study of Stickney’s life, era, and achievement is a pioneering venture. But we can welcome this essay in justice and discovery without being wholly satisfied by it. If anything, Stickney demands density, richness, the surprise of a delicate excess. Professor Whittle, for all his scholarly virtue, is dry, businesslike, at times superficial. He analyzes form and meaning well enough, but he finds himself in trouble as the sparks fly upward.

Insomnia, by Henry Miller. Double day $10

It will doubtless reassure a generation of readers no longer entirely young that Henry Miller is not only alive and well, but as goatish as ever, and nearly as pyromaniacal. “Insomnia” is his acknowledgment of the frustrations of love in old age, the story of his passion for a Japanese chanteuse, who inspires not only a few pages of characteristically exhibitionistic prose, but several cosmodemonic watercolors as well. Miller himself pretends that he is examining erotic folly and romantic heartbreak, but old hands will know better, for the detail of his courtship of Hoki Tokuda is merely incidental to the parable of the divine clown in the fallen world which for forty years has informed every word he has written. The book is slight, a fragment only of the Henry Miller of the grand manner, and perhaps it can stand as little more than an appendix to the single Work of which his entire life and art have been the making. But it is an expression of the same energy that gave us “Capricorn” and “The Colossus of Maroussi,” and it is rich with the excess that leads a certain kind of fool to the Palace of Wisdom. Above all, it can make us proud of Henry Miller, who bears so gaily his burden of flesh and years.

A Poet’s Journal, Days of 1945—1951, by George Seferis. Harvard $7.95

Seferis kept a journal most of his adult life and the part published here for the first time covers the years of his return to Greece after the War. These were years of putting his life back together again and getting down to the job of writing once more. All the words of a gifted writer are important, but in an informal journal there is bound to be a good deal of chaff. That is the case here. For the specialist there is useful information about the genesis of some of Seferis’s best poems and of his study of Cavafy. For everyone there are nuggets to be found, but only after a certain amount of sifting. All in all, we do come to know the poet better, for, in his words, these journals are, “the footprints one leaves behind as he passes.”

I Am a Memory Come Alive, by Franz Kafka. Schocken $10

These autobiographical writings were edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, who brought a high degree of scholarship and understanding to the work. If anyone doubts that Kafka’s “unseen authority,” the fierce and merciless judge in all his stories, is a manifestation of Kafka’s own father, he need only read the young man’s description of his father’s personality, or read in a letter to his father that “you took me out of bed, carried me out onto the pavlatche, . . . and left me there alone for a while in my nightshirt, outside the shut door.” Kafka’s anti-heroes, forever outside that same door, behind which lie the inaccessible comforts of paternal approval, could read this book to find their own childhoods embedded in Kafka’s experiences. Startling, too, is the sanity with which he can describe his own situation. However mad his stories, Kafka himself, as revealed in this excellent study, was clear-headed and perceptive about the world he depicted as guilt-ridden and unjust.

Letters of Hart Crane and His Family, edited by Thomas S. W. Lewis. Columbia $20

These letters, like most of those which are confined to families, are not of much interest in themselves. Their value lies in their documentary worth, for they are full of the day-to-day record of the situations, health, emotions, successes, and failures of those involved. In that sense they add insight and meaning to the American literary scene. Considered as a reference work, then, the book is invaluable.

Mark Twain and His World, by Justin Kaplan. Simon & Schuster $19.95

Mark Twain was a celebrity—an institution even—for most of his life, not merely a writer, though as a writer he possessed the most original mind and material—and most energy—in America in his time. Any picture book about him is therefore, by definition, bound to please and entertain, and Milton Meltzer’s “Mark Twain Himself” (1960) is a triumph of the genre. So is Kaplan’s. Though smaller and shorter, it has the color illustrations lacking in Meltzer, beautiful reproductions of paintings by Bingham, Bierstadt, Monet, Whistler, and Zorn, which sometimes have a discernible connection with Clemens and his milieu. The text alone is a readable and sound short biography, which neither evades the tormenting complexities of the Missouri child caught in a machinery world nor grovels in them. Public libraries should own either Meltzer or Kaplan, and a flip of the coin should settle the matter easily.

Two Renaissance Book Hunters: The Letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis, translated and annotated by Phyllis Walter Goodhart Gordon. Columbia $17.50

Reading these letters, a small selection from the pen of one of the greatest of the fifteenth-century literary scholars who devoted a long life to the rediscovery of classical manuscripts, is a joyous experience. Poggio writes, in rage, despair, exuberance, of texts rotting in northern monasteries, of possible new finds in Denmark, of texts purchased and hidden away by a covetous rival, of his own discoveries. He quarrels with his friend, complains of his taxes, commissions friends to buy classical statues for him. He begs again and again for parchment and for new texts to copy, and he complains of the uncomprehending and sullen ignorance of his scribes. This collection succeeds in a rare thing: it reveals some of the excitement of a life devoted to real scholarship.

V. Sackville-West, by Michael Stevens. Scribner’s $7.95

Michael Stevens seems to have taken full advantage of the recent interest aroused by Nigel Nicolson’s “Portrait of a Marriage.” In “V. Sackville-West” he offers a restrained, almost photographic representation of a paradoxical literary figure. His biography affords little information about Victoria Sackville-West that her son Nigel has not already provided. The text is interspersed with summaries of V. Sackville-West’s copious fiction and with random quotations from published and unpublished poetry. The reader in search of an informative critical biography will be greatly disappointed. Stevens merely adds another snapshot to the Bloomsbury family album.

Lord Rochester’s Monkey, by Graham Greene. Viking $15.95

Written some forty years ago, this biography of the most brilliant and complex Restoration courtier reveals a subtle and yet clear understanding of its subject. Mr. Greene has a keen eye for the things that influence one’s religious beliefs, and his explanation of Rochester’s “religion of atheism” is convincing: a yoking together of dissimilar impulses inherited from a stern mother and an elegant, irresponsible father. He is more willing to attribute certain of Rochester’s actions to uncontrollable urges than is Professor Pinto, the author of the only other significant biography of the earl. Mr. Greene’s portrait is not as regular, but it is more persuasive. The illustrations are well co-ordinated with the text, the frontis-piece being a reproduction of the painting which shows Rochester placing the bays of the poet on the brow of a monkey (as epigraphs, Mr. Greene uses two passages in which Rochester compares man unfavorably with this animal). Two faults must be mentioned: there are no footnotes to identify the sources of Mr. Greene’s information, and Professor David Vieth’s fine edition of Rochester’s poems is dismissed in too cavalier a manner. But this is a handsome book, skillfully written, with fresh and valuable insights into a fascinating figure.

Bolingbroke and Harley, by Sheila Biddle. Knopf 10

A convincing portrait of two very different sorts of men, whose friendship created the most promising and brilliant ministry of the Age of Queen Anne, and whose subsequent violent rivalry tore the high-minded government asunder. A profound appreciation for the darkness and ferment of decay and dissent in the early eighteenth century, Biddle’s account explains in vivid relief the compatibility and subsequent distrust in this alliance of an Old Puritan power-broker and a debauched intellectual prodigy. It is a balanced account. The incorruptible manager Harley is seen to vacillate and the brilliant future theorist Boling-broke is blamed for jealous factionalism. A fine style and pace place this volume among those few specialized works of interest to the general reader of history.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Volume VIII: 1667, edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews. California $15

The great edition rolls majestically on through another eventful Pepysian year. The Dutch raid on the Medway and the fall of Clarendon are the major highlights as Pepys constantly senses impending doom for the country, and falls into nostalgic longings for Cromwell’s glorious days. There is panic in the City, unpaid sailors mutiny, government morale collapses in a massive cover-up operation, with everyone trying to shift the blame for war disasters to other shoulders. Parliament is soon angrily investigating, driving Pepys into typically methodical preparations, and as usual he seems the only navy official likely to emerge unscathed. But public and private worries are as always lightened by days of marvellously varied enjoyment: of books, plays, music, and good talk; the sight of pretty Nelly in smock-sleeves and bodice on May day; a summer outing to Epsom Downs, with glimpses of glow-worms during the return journey; a splendidly comic scene when they dig in the darkness for Samuel’s gold, buried for safety at Brampton. And before the year’s end Deb Willet has arrived.

Private Chronicles: A Study of English Diaries, by Robert A. Fothergill. Oxford $14.50

In this highly original and imaginative study Mr. Fothergill seeks to develop intellectual categories through which to give order to the neglected genre of diary-writing. Rather brusquely he dismisses as sentimental the reader’s fascination with the pastness of the past, the uniqueness of the vanished moment that gives interest (for instance) to the innocent banalities of Parson Woodforde. But that dismissal frees him to explore the possibilities of the “book of the self” as aesthetic form, “treating diaries as books rather than as people.” While he writes shrewdly about the psychic motives and consequences of diary-writing, Fothergill gives principal attention to the ways in which a diary establishes, by literary means, the “imprint” of a unique personality, and the ways in which the great diaries organize the experience of living as “serial autobiography.” An immense range of diaries are mentioned, from Pepys to Anaïs Nin, and a dozen or so are explored in depth with great critical acuteness. Anyone who has ever tried to keep a record of his life will gain wisdom as well as information from this excellent book.

The World of George Washington, by Richard M. Ketchum. McGraw-Hill $35

The advertising for this book describes it as the “definitive” biography of Washington. Douglas S. Freeman and his associates needed seven volumes to write their definitive biography (1948—1952), and since then we have had James T. Flexner’s four-volume biography and several others. Ketchum does his definitive work in 280 pages, which include 240 illustrations. It is the kind of mandatory coffee-table book (large format, high price) that publishers feel obligated to prepare on the eve of the Bicentennial. On the good side, the illustrations are outstanding in the tradition of “American Heritage,” sponsor of the book, and the text is adequate. But no one can tell the story of Washington’s life in so limited a scope and present much that is new. The publishers say that the book rests entirely “on facts that were known and substantiated while Washington was alive.” That curious statement cannot and should not be true—else what are historians for? Such information comes slowly to the surface as Washington’s manuscripts, and those of his contemporaries, are found and given the study that generations of historians must bring to the task of presenting the “definitive” Washington.

The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Volume XX (January 1796-March 1797) and Volume XXI (April 1797-July 1798), edited by Harold C. Syrett. Columbia $17.50 each

Maintaining a previous high standard of editorial excellence, these handsome volumes are packed with interesting and little-known information, as well as a calendar of unfound documents and definitive citations of celebrated writings of the elusive arch-conservative. Volume XX pertains largely to Jay’s Treaty, a draft of Washington’s “Farewell Address,” and private legal practice. Volume XXI contains invaluable information concerning the “XYZ Affair” and preparedness; also revealed are the intimate details of the “Reynolds Affair,” in which Hamilton publicly confessed adultery and only narrowly averted a duel with James Monroe.

Stettinius, Sr.: Portrait of a Morgan Partner, by John Douglas Forbes. Virginia $12

A complete and serviceable account of an archetypical American business success story. While concerned chiefly with the career of Stettinius as corporate manager and chief munitions buyer for the Allies in the Morgan-built armaments and preparedness apparatus of World War One, Forbes is also concerned with the dynamic “work ethic” that carried Stettinius from impecunious St. Louis beginnings to New York and a Morgan partnership. Sympathetic to the demands of “big business” on its executive, Forbes chronicles the fortunes of Stettinius with Stirling Boiler (now Babcock & Wilcox), Diamond Match Co., General Motors, and J. P. Morgan & Co. A most interesting account of a “driven man,” his obsession with work and responsibility (he was dead at sixty), his values and charities.

The Incredible Pierpont Morgan: Financier and Art Collector, by Cass Canfield. Harper & Row $17.50

Mr. Canfield’s attitude to his subject is a little difficult to pinpoint in this biography, for he appears to treat Pierpont Morgan with equal parts of disdain and admiration. Since the book is primarily a pictorial essay, emphasis on the unfortunate aspects of Mr. Morgan’s life seems to be a little strong. Mr. Morgan saved the United States government financially not once but twice, his library has become one of the richest resources of New York, and his other collections made an unimaginably great addition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In view of these achievements what does it matter if he was a harsh, austere, and formidable person? His public good surely outweighs any distress he may have caused, so much so, indeed, that by this time apologies or accusations are no longer necessary.

Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner, by Thomas S. Hines. Oxford $19.50

Daniel Burnham (1846—1912), the Chicago architect who wielded much influence not only there but also in Washington and New York, has had no major biography since that of Charles Moore in 1921, reprinted in 1968. That one is subtitled “Architect: Planner of Cities.” Although a new biography is not quite necessary yet, it is good to have this renewal of interest in the man who might be said to have had the same position in Chicago on the side of establishment architecture as Sullivan and Wright held with the avant-garde. Questing and innovative, Burnham’s details retained a traditional form which kept him from the forefront of admiration, yet his work and his vision hold much to reward careful study. If one has any sort of criticism for Mr. Hines’ solid text it is that the 140 or so illustrations do riot include nearly enough plans, so badly needed in order to understand the buildings and large city-schemes three-dimensionally.

Barefoot in Arcadia: Memories of a More Innocent Era, by Louis B. Wright. South Carolina $5.95

In a book which is an attractive combination of halcyon remembrances with wistful criticism of contemporary urban living, Louis Wright paints a warm, substantial, unsentimentalized portrait of small-town Southern life just after 1900. This highly entertaining, unpretentious autobiography of a boyhood essays to correct—or enlarge —the literary view of rural Southernhood, and especially dispel the clouds of dark brooding sin and horror with which the past generation of novelists have shrouded it. What emerges is distinctly worth understanding: the hard-working, independent, generous soul of the Southern upcountry, a Protestant ethic civilized with manners and sociability. It is an account filled with humor, good will, and genuineness.

Ruth Benedict, by Margaret Mead. Columbia $8.95

Seven unsatisfyingly brief excerpts from Benedict’s fascinating and articulate writings, and a biographical sketch by Mead, make up this paste-up memorial to the scholar and poet who in the 193o’s helped revolutionize the fundamental patterns of American anthropological thought, but whose importance, even when realized, has only rarely been admitted. Mead, perhaps the only person today who could have pinpointed the direction and purpose of Benedict’s life, has written a shallow, distant, and bloodless chronicle of a woman who deserved better treatment from both her colleagues and her biographers.

By the Evidence, by Louis S, B. Leakey. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $9.95

A sequel to Leakey’s fine “White African,” this volume relates the adventures of the prehistorian and scientist from 1932 to 1951. Completed one day before his untimely death in 1972, these memoirs impress one with the multiplicity of Leakey’s accomplishments and the liberality of his understanding of East African problems. Leakey was not a “modest” man; hence there is little in this volume that is not self-congratulatory. As Franklin noted, however, there is a vanity here that has been productive of good; Leakey’s brilliant achievements in archaeology and his writing of a vast and deeply understanding anthropological study of the Kenyan Kikuyu, as well as his activities as WWII intelligence officer and popularizer of prehistory and natural history are presented in fine style.

Each Man in His Time, by Raoul Walsh. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $10

This, the latest entry in the current series of autobiographies of Hollywood notables, is written by one of the great veterans, with a fifty-year film career spanning both the silent and sound periods. Walsh is an honorable director of great technical skill whose film career began in the days of Griffith. Although much of the anecdotal material is rather thin, his memoirs are useful because of the insights offered into the sensibility of a director whose work spans so many genres. Walsh moved with ease from thrillers to costume dramas, but this typically American director (like his more exalted peers, John Ford and Howard Hawks) naturally excelled in westerns. Clearly he had a great deal of fun in the industry, but this is not communicated ideally in his memoirs; his gift for handling narrative forcefully in film is not apparent in his autobiography.

My Life and My Films, by Jean Renoir. Atheneum $10

These memoirs are as charming, as rich, as full of wisdom, and as fundamental as the films created by their author. Since such a transfer of talent from one medium to another is so rarely experienced, the book cannot be too highly recommended. The clear gaze of the films becomes the clear thinking of the text, for Renoir seems to be independent of the specious thinking which follows fashion. His mind is still so fresh that its power delights as it persuades, while the reader relaxes in the surety of the director’s handling of his life.

George S. Kaufman and His Friends, by Scott Meredith. Doubleday $22.95

A big, bursting biography just fits the big, rather brash, and bursting talents of George S. Kaufman. His plays, written by himself or in collaboration with a number of friends, gave immense pleasure to an immense number of people. It is said that he was shy, but his eye for the ladies was formidable and his conquests were almost numberless. He knew, or could know, almost anyone in the between-the-wars theater and on until his death in 1961. The over 700 pages of the book are hardly enough to contain the energy of the man so admirably conveyed by Mr. Meredith. But each of the pages is full of the interest and the pace of this important American theater life.

FICTION The Partners, by Louis Auchincloss. Houghton Mifflin $6.95

Law firms in Wall Street enjoying high prestige purvey specialized services based on suitably monstrous fees, and clients would be bold indeed if they denied receiving in exchange for their lucre all the expert counsel they required. Old established partnerships may and frequently do perform minor and even major miracles in the esoteric arts of jurisprudence; certainly they acquire formidable reputations and an air of infallibility. They also decline in some instances as they achieve venerability if accompanied by a loss of vigor. Precisely this area concerns Mr. Auchincloss, who can not only speak with unassailable authority, but can also bring to the subject the urbanity and objectiveness it needs, along with an impeccable style and the requisite narrative skill. Internal intrigue within an imaginary law firm projected on this level was never more convincingly portrayed than it is here with uncommon adroitness, with taste, quiet humor, and absolute conviction.

A Cry of Angels, by Jeff Fields. Atheneum $8.9;

Episodic in form and quite uneven in appeal, the new author’s venture into contemporary fiction bravely examines the tensions manifest in a small town in Georgia, offering finally as a resolution to the dilemmas he faces in the course of his narrative an improbable riot among the poor whites during the midfifties. His protagonist resembles a folk hero magnified many times; the ambitious, highly unorthodox architect working with scrap lumber and no money to build model houses for the poor escapes the bounds of reality; the illiterate youngster about whom the book in part revolves stretches credulity to the breaking point. For a villain the author presents an even more grotesque concept in the person of a Negro we are asked to accept first as a disciplinarian among the trouble makers of his own people, then as an enemy of whites bent on their destruction. As the book ends with the phantasmagoria of a full-scale race riot, all contrived at the very least, the reader’s acceptance becomes of necessity a marginal business.

Sick and Full of Burning, by Kelly Cherry. Viking $8.95

In its Pauline sense the title accurately defines the plight of its heroine, an attractive, thirty-year-old woman anxious for marriage, but willing to accept less, from a stalwart lover to the phantom substitute described with minimal disdain by the beautiful authoress whose magnificent eyes peer elfishly from the dust jacket. Between sighs for the imaginary inamorato varieties of pot culture are rehearsed frequently with half-hearted conviction, but as a celebration of virtues allegedly possessed by cannabis sativa it fails to illuminate the inherent tragedy behind the narrative.

Losing People, by Thomas Baird. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $6.50

Internecine warfare among the members of a family assembled to celebrate the Christmas season in the house of pater-familias at Princeton is fiercely waged by all hands, principally with the head of the household, here represented as being a veritable Draco in the severity of his rule. Having won no affection from his kinfolk because of his domineering and overbearing behavior, the protagonist is confronted by the collapse of all authority, the final alienation of his wife, the revolt of his children, and the prospect of a shattered world. All these involuted relationships are exposed by the author in all their tawdry details, but he remains handicapped by the brevity of his novel, which cannot support for want of adequate space the complicated emotional entanglements here barely dramatized in a contest nobody can possibly win.

The Killing of the” King, by David R. Slavitt. Doubleday $7.95

“The Killing of the King” is entertainment for a hot summer afternoon, a concoction of exotic characters in exotic locations. The monarch of the title is no less than the last of the Pharoahs in the last days of his life, exiled but maintaining a career of sexual intrigue and absolute power within the narrow scope of private life. Seduction, sudden death, vengeance from America, false jewels, and false identities, stories enough for a dozen novels spin their way toward a tidy conclusion.

Winter in the Blood, by James Welch. Harper & Row $6.95

Intimations of isolation, anomie, and emptiness make up this brief and shallow first novel of an American Indian’s directionless search for experience and identity. Mr. Welch’s narrative technique is inadequate to the difficult task of conveying the essence of the people he is writing about: the imagery is bloodless; the characters are one-dimensional, purposeless, their experiences empty and inconsequential; events have meaning neither in themselves nor in their implications. This is a story of aimless self-discovery in which both the protagonist and the reader feel lost.

Lookout Cartridge, by Joseph McElroy. Knopf $10

While elaborations of plot need not be accompanied by corresponding elaborations of structure and style, Mr. McElroy has not been backward in his efforts to render his medium compatible with its message. The language and techniques of film-making have contributed much to a style which often fails to rise above its own complications, leaving us, finally, with a sense of what the hero calls “power . . . tuned in on when it lacked direction but had momentum.” This unfocused power has led to the construction of a novel of complex patterns and, by now, familiar mysteries. “Mingling beyond mere will with the mixed obsessions of others,” the hero gradually expands an unexplained fact, the destruction of the only copy of a film he has helped to make, into a shadowy combination of obscure threats and uncertain alliances. Finding himself at the center of this ill-defined matrix of plot and counterplot, he struggles to give substance not only to the mystery which surrounds him, but also to his own personality, and to his search for a sense of place. England and America, along with their differences in space and time, become the focal points of his increasingly complicated investigations.

The Hollow Lands, by Michael Moorcock. Harper & Row $6.95

The second in a projected three-volume series called “The Dancers at the End of Time,” “The Hollow Lands” is buoyed up by the same agile imagination which made “An Alien Heat” such a splendid, sturdy bubble of science fiction. One such novel may appear from time to time, two are difficult, but three, when the third is issued, will be almost impossible. Yet one’s confidence in Mr. Moorcock is strengthened with every page, for he is secure in his abilities and his “end of time” is a glittering, seductive environment.

Guilty Pleasures, by Donald Barthelme. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $7.95

There is no guilt here for the delighted reader, unless the deliciously pampered guilt of having enjoyed lighthearted pleasures. If anything, Barthelme tickles us with the feeling of our own decent simplicity in these for the most part unprofound pieces of parody, political satire, and fable. This collection is on the whole not Barthelme at his exquisite and concentrated best, but one catches the frail verbal music and not quite melancholy wit of the wise child.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution: Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of John Watson, M. D., as edited by Nicholas Meyer. Dutton $6.95

Everything is right about this fiendishly clever pastiche of Conan Doyle. That is, everything but its central jokes. Its effect depends on its introduction of Freud into the Sherlock Holmes canon and on its closeness to Doyle’s style, but that is not quite enough to occupy the 253 pages of the novel.

The Abbess of Crewe: A Modern Morality Tale, by Muriel Spark. Viking

In the Abbey of Crewe, Sister Alexandra has reinstated the Old Rule and has instituted what she delicately styles “our electronics project.” In the refectory the nuns nourish themselves with tinned dog and cat food, but from the lectern the instruments of good works are recited with other incantations involving frequency and electro-magnetic waves. If current political scandal breathes in the very speech of its characters and shapes much of the plot of this fable, it is not to be construed that Muriel Spark’s concerns are narrowly political or parodie. The transformation of history into mythology grips the mind of Abbess Alexandra, and garbling, she points out to her accomplices, is one of the steps in that transformation. The dangerous English poetry which the abbess intones in her devotions will be deleted in the necessary garbling but not her musings upon starvation, nor her denunciation of the psychiatric cure to which Felicity, her rival, has turned in her defeat, nor her provocative telephone conversations with the traveling mediator, Sister Gertrude, whose careful detachment nevertheless provides the abbess with many a rhetorical inspiration.

The Best American Short Stories 1974, edited by Martha Foley. Houghton Mifflin $8.95

In this volume of a long established series Miss Foley presents twenty stories which she regards as the finest among hundreds of narratives published by American writers within the past year. She has found these stories not only in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and so forth, but also in the lesser known reviews and periodicals. What gives this collection a striking unity, a special distinction, is that a large majority of the stories are concerned with family relationships, the relationship between parents and children, husbands and wives. In “A Family Affair,” John L’Heureux creates a domestic tragedy out of the unrestrained passions of a father, mother, and their wayward daughter; in “Tom,” Mary Lavin through a sensitive and informed narrator renders vivid and memorable the experiences of an Irish immigrant and his wife; in “Son,” John Updike conveys the pride and tenderness with which a father observes his adolescent son; and in “Honeymoon” Arturo Vivante gives a joyous and deeply moving account of the wedding and honey-moon of a young Italian couple whose innocence and faith have not yet been destroyed. Although this concern with the family unit is less emphatic in other stories it is clearly there in Barry Targan’s immensely comic “Old Veemish,” in Eleanor Clark’s “Summer in Porto Rico,” and in Peter Sandberg’s “Galloway’s Climb.” For those who are interested in the quality and scope of current short fiction this splendid collection will provide stimulating, fascinating reading.

POETRY Burning In Water Drowning In Flame: Selected Poems I955—1973, by Charles Bukowski. Black Sparrow $4

Charles Bukowski will probably survive as the closest thing to a truly damned poet that our, or any, culture has produced. For some twenty years now he has been a moral spokesman for the American lumpenproletariat, a chronicler of our urban degeneracy, whose dingy furnished rooms, drinking, and fornications are neither bohemianism nor self-indulgence, but a way of life. He writes almost exclusively of violence, dirt, sickness, hopelessness, but with a stoicism and self-honesty, even a sort of good humor, that defeat the implications of such things and make him, or his poetic persona, an improbable hero for our times. A man who has, above all, come through, he demonstrates that human creatures can not only succumb to an ultimate sordidness, but abide there in something resembling dignity. He is like a Henry Miller without epiphanies, or, better still, like a Céline with a moral sense. He is also an excellent poet.

Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk, by Charles Simic. Braziller $5.95; paper $2.95

The initiation into pre-verbal, pre-conceptual consciousness is a common modern obsession, as are its Ways—childhood, folklore, eroticism, foods, animals, and plants. What is uncommon, in Charles Simic, is the level of imagination and gnarled wit brought to the quest. Fine lines are everywhere in these poems: the bird’s “chirp, like a burning candle / On a windy threshold”; or, in a belle dame sans merci poem, “The migrant’s fire of her long hair / Harm’s way she comes and also the smile’s round about way.” And yet, one is often disappointed by hollow rhetoric (“Its ritual and secret life / Where I wish to be anointed”) and by the fashionably automatic sanctification of the trivial (“The Garden of Earthly Delights”). This is clearly a book everyone should read; equally clearly, it falls short of the greatest irrationalist poetry in concentration and commitment.

In Sepia, by Jon Anderson. Pittsburgh $5.95; paper $2.50

In his third book, Jon Anderson leaves behind the surface flash associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, for philosophical long lines of unostententatious subtlety, influenced by Ashbery and Rilke. The book is an unusually unified meditation, on the approach of the “middle years,” the changing sense of death, the pattern of life, and the meaning of friendship. It gives us the mature voice of a poet who has long stood out, in his generation, for the philosophical depth of his subjects.

Residue of Song, by Marvin Bell. Atheneum $3.95

What can be said about a poet who complains like David Ignatow, sings like John Berryman, and sees like Theodore Roethke? That Marvin Bell has talent and is one of our most important poets. At their best, Bell’s new poems snap with the wit and depth of Yiddish proverbs. “Residue of Song,” Bell’s third book of poems, is a kind of personal history. Like the history of the Jewish religion, the figures of father and son dominate. In “Who Killed Christ?” Bell explains that “I let the father/ assume all the shapes of the tides.” “Residue of Song” is a book about origins, the poet telling us that “The proper study of man is where he came from!” Despite the logic and wit of the poet’s complicated personal grammar, the finest poems move quickly, dropping the rationally conceived verbal pre-tensions for a greater associative content— poems such as “The Present,” “To the Sky,” “Song of the Immediacy of Death,” and the graceful concluding poem, “The Hurt Trees.” If there is a weakness to Bell’s new book, it is his tendency to give in to an excess of word play, particularly in the third and fourth sections. Nevertheless, Marvin Bell’s new book, by way of the poet’s own imperfect personality, successfully woos the reader.

Conversions, by Paul Smyth. Georgia $3.95

Smyth’s first book offers the reader a rare treat: elegantly crafted poems about love, death, and metaphysical truths. The poems are more than a young poet’s virtuoso performance, for they show how disciplined language converts the commonplace into an unusual engagement with realities. In contrast to much free but vapid verse, this collection provides a most refreshing experience.

Collected Poems, by Austin Clarke. Oxford $20

Clarke’s death this year, at the age of seventy-seven, while this complete edition of his printed works of poetry was in press, make of this volume a definitive and memorial edition. Somehow the public attention that has been lavished upon some members of Clarke’s generation of Irish writers has less generously illuminated him. He is a poet of very deep passions couched in meditated art so natural, so right, as to seem carven deeply from the ragged strata of human behavior in order to reveal marbled humanity beneath. Clarke snatched such stuff from a battered world as might rival in delicacy the light of the moon. His was a gift too constant and hopeful to be altered by the bitterness that he often felt for the inhumanity of institutions and especially his rejection of the violence of Irish politics and religion. Much of his poetry is heavy-laden with problems, conundrums, self-imposed obstacles, that he attempts to reduce to simplicity and assurance. Here is a noble book for any lover of poetry.

Inmarypraise, by Günther Grass Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $15

“Inmarypraise” is, in actuality, an amalgam. It is a poem by Günther Grass. It is a translation of the poem by Christopher Middleton, printed beside the original German text. It is a handwritten version of the poem on several pages in what one supposes is Grass’s sprawling, distinctive hand. It is a series of almost surreal photographs by Maria Rama, used as a background of most beautiful sketches and etchings by Grass himself. It is a list of reproductions by Cedric Hentschil. And, finally, it is a layout by P. J. Wilhelm. It is an amalgam at the very highest level, attaining new meanings and new directions in both poetry and book production.

The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry, selected, translated and with an introduction by Ahmed AH. Columbia $15

Possibly one literate American in five knows that there is such a language as Urdu, possibly one in fifty could give a characterization of the language itself, and possibly one in a hundred knows that an important literary tradition exists in Urdu. Ahmed Ali’s lucid and scholarly work gives a superb introduction to the very worthwhile domain of Urdu poetry.

Turtle Island, by Gary Snyder. New Directions $6.75; paper $1.95

“Turtle Island” is our “Walden”—a sustained poetic testimony that we can, perhaps must, learn to live in psychic health with less organized human context, and more wild context, than civilization offers. Snyder describes nature better than any other living poet; moreover, like Wordsworth, he makes us feel the centering power, beyond the visible, that nature has for his mind. He is also a fine poet of nature-in-man, as in “The Bath”—a joyful and dignified corrective to bodily shame, and the over-extended incest taboos that induce it. Snyder is weak only in homily and satire, where his designs tend to be too obvious.

Tight Corners & What’s Around Them, by David Bromige. Black Sparrow $4

Bromige’s poems and prose in this new volume lack urgency. Too often we read through a manipulation of words and find no core. “The Protestant Poem” and the prose piece “He Was” typify Bromige’s tendency to write over-elaborated series of possibilities which become arid and abstract. The reader grows impatient, irritated with Bromige’s distancing style. If it sounds as if Bromige is too loose or sloppy, that is not the case. His involuted and ornamental sentences are part of a craft that interferes with feeling. The result? Poems that are too consciously self-concerned; the poem ceases to be a process of discovery. Bromige’s exploration of the cliche-ridden curses of thought, self-consciousness, and print, fails to take new risks and thus lacks originality. Bromige writes, “Love is a dense volume. All its pages have corners. Sometimes, as here, only words can be the means to turn them.” His book is not alive with love; it grows hazy with a screen of words. At times, though, wit works effectively and Bromige’s writing becomes interesting, even compelling, as in “Triumph & The Will” and “Unwinding the Wound.” “Still There” is a remarkably clear, unaffected, beautiful poem, the finest in this volume.

Two-Part Inventions: Poems, by Richard Howard. Atheneum $4.95

The author of “Untitled Subjects” continues his pastel renditions of the great sad dead. Instead of monologues, we have “two-part inventions,” two voices whose long speeches approach conversation. The actors are mostly from the twentieth century or have influenced that period. Wilde, Whitman, Rodin, and James are involved. Perverted or diverted love, the irony of incommunicable vision, the misunderstanding between artist and audience form the noble failures of vanished lives which have found a voice.

The Sleeping Lord and Other Fragments,by David Jones. Chilmark $7.95

David Jones is a great master of sound and rhythm who likes to leap in time from ancient Wales or Rome to the trenches of World War One, in prose-poems that are like litanies made up out of dead names from dead languages. At his best, he gives a touching sense of the movement of myth through civilizations, of religious awe struggling with mutability; at his worst, he is pedantic and obscure. But his ear and heart never fail him.

Another Life, by Derek Walcott. Noonday $3.95

Walcott, a Caribbean black, is perhaps the best living poet in English under fifty. His style is not so far from Lowell’s, but he has a sense of ontology, of beautiful rhetoric which rises from beloved foundations, that I don’t believe the other poet so fully possesses. Despite the fact that this long poem, now in paperback, is partially auto-biographical, it is as much about the transplanted cultures of the Caribbean as it is about Walcott’s intelligent soul or the divided and difficult life of the artist.

New Poems, by Kenneth Rexroth. New Directions $7.50

What is meaning? No matter, answers this collection of ninety-one poems, for our experience is too impoverished of this mysterious quantity to evaluate it. There is in excess impressionability—voluptuous luxury of phrase to fill our senses. Thus does Rexroth whisper without conversing, in beautiful lament of passing sensations, of “fallen cherry blossoms.” Each line of poetry a long-considered stroke, it is poetry of climax and of momentary sensations. A constant love of life glows pale and fades warm with an acceptance of fatigue and sorrow, loss and loneliness. Included are adaptations from Oriental poetry, translations of the poetess Marichiki, and collaborations in translation of Chinese poets with Ling Chung.

Selected Poems, by Robert Watson. Atheneum $10

To stabilize the discontinuous thoughts of a moment, to cast a mundane or monotonous reflection in a lyric of captivating rhythm, these are the gifts of Robert Watson’s poetry. Chronology frightens Watson who wakes with disappointment and daily regularity; he turns with eloquent voice to speak of trivalities. His gift is out of tune with the brutalities of order and human politics. Today is a semicolon alone in his universe of lovely images and lazy sleepiness. But more than this, there is a stiff fibre—elusive in the wet dark humanity of his poetry—that is a sense of clear, bathing sunlight. Amidst mundanities, one stretches for whole moments in keen light.

Terry Street, by Douglas Dunn. Chilmark $3.50

With all the honesty of a perceptive familiarity, Mr. Dunn presents us with the lives of a community made no more remarkable by being the object of his scrutiny than the commonest circumstances of our day-to-day existence. What is to be learned from our sharing in this faithful recognition of the commonplace remains in doubt, for Mr. Dunn is as sparing in his comments as he is precise in his observations. For all that life in Terry Street is “like living in a deep, dried-up riverbed, a throat that thirsts,” the facts are not assembled with any observable intent to demonstrate that truth, and Mr. Dunn more often turns our attention to facts than to their abstract burden of despair. Even when Terry Street itself is no longer the focal point of the poet’s gaze, the objects which encumber our daily lives remain in the forefront of his imagination, providing pegs upon which to hang his muted, tentative conclusions. “Old cookers and discarded clothes,” “A sheet of corrugated iron,” a postage stamp, are made the occasions of meditations which, in the end, are eclipsed by the more tangible realities which have given rise to them.

The Little That Is All, by John Ciardi. Rutgers $5

In his latest book of poetry John Ciardi takes as his subject matter the events of everyday life and finds in them the kernels of poetic art. There is the humor of his submission to his powermower and the wry sense of his own mortality occasioned by a foot washing. But there is also the ugliness seen from the train window and the creeping despair of East Sixty-Seventh Street. Through all the poems there is a faith that can find significance in even the smallest events. Mr. Ciardi’s vision, far from being overwhelmed by mundane experience, is invigorated by it. The strength of his imagination is sufficient to reveal meaning even where it is least expected.

Invisible Poets by Joan R. Sherman. Illinois $10

The “invisible poets” to which Ms. Sherman refers are the Afro-Americans of the nineteenth century, a group of over one hundred blacks who published some ninety volumes of poetry. Today, however, they remain unacknowledged and virtually forgotten. This volume is a start in correcting the neglect of these poets. Ms. Sherman offers an in-depth study of twenty-six representative figures, giving not only a profile of their lives and a comprehensive bibliography, but also an appraisal of their contributions to American literature. In addition, about three dozen other poets receive brief attention. Ms. Sherman found that this black poetry ranged from “militant race-proud jeremiads” to “sentimental nature and love lyrics.” Over all, however, their poetry “faithfully conformed” to nineteenth-century poetic standards. This study will have limited appeal to the general reader but will be an invaluable aid for later studies of these forgotten Americans and their poetry.

An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, edited by Mounah A. Khouri and Hamid Algar. California $12

Modernity of subject and the free verse form mark the editorial direction of this important anthology of Arabic verse, sophisticated representatives of a literature all but ignored by Western readers. The translations are smooth and professional, sacrificing end rhymes for sense in the interests of keeping the free verse separated from traditional forms. Particularly exciting are the Palestinian contributions, reflecting, as in Harun Hashim Rashid’s “Palestinian,” the poetic outburst that followed the Palestine tragedy of 1948. The collection could open doors to closed Western minds.

The Axiom Esti, by Odysseus Elytis. Translated by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis. Pittsburgh $7.50; paper $3.50

It is well that the poetry of Elytis is at last receiving the attention that America has already accorded Kazantzakis, Seferis, and Cavafy, for his work partakes more fully and successfully than these of the spirit of Greece. Here is a very long and complicated surrealistic poem that suggests Yeats in its harmonies, proportion, and beauty. Constructed in three sections, “Genesis,” “The Passion,” and “The Gloria,” the poet sings, like Whitman, of himself. He celebrates the childhood of the senses, mind, and body, only to detail the use and abuse to which the promises of life are put. In celebration of his vision of life, Elytis proclaims of good, evil, sorrow, and joy alike, “Worthy it is, the price paid.”

The Sovereign Sun: Selected Poems, by Odysseus Elytis, translated by Kimon Friar. Temple $10

The first extensive collection of the work of this Greek poet to appear in English, this book is a worthy vehicle of Elytis’ poetic vision. An intuitive poet, who rejects pessimism and engages in his surrealistic images the harsh realities of life, Elytis is a voice of hope and naked vigor. There is light and warmth, an awakening to self, body, and spirit, in Elytis; he succeeds further in bearing this light and warmth back to his reader, regenerating the commonplace. Pain and pleasure are mixed in these poems; Elytis accepts the partial bondage of the human spirit and the inevitable corruptions of society. Yet his poetry draws life into the tatters of modernity. The translation is brilliant.

Selected Poems, by Czeslaw Milosz. Seabwry $5—95

A political refugee who sought asylum in America, Milosz is considered one of the best contemporary Polish poets. More lyrical than an Auden, he combines a somewhat didactic though just analysis of modern ideological hell with a moist, earthy Slavic tenderness. His scrupulous insights into recent history with which he is all too familiar shape themselves into accurate and acrid epigrams. One may imagine him cultivating his California garden, almost in bliss, and yet aware of how untrue and dull our moral landscape has become.

Five Decades: Poems 1925—1970, by Pablo Neruda. Translated by Ben Belitt. Grove $12.50

Does cataloguing plants, animals, the parts of the human body, and the events of injustice make a great poet? Chopped up Whitman in a surrealistic, inorganic soup often seems to be Neruda’s substitute for imaginative lyricism. A squirt of Marx is sometimes added, and floats irrelevantly on top like oil on seawater. When he denounces oppression selectively, when he lists poetic things without being poetic, he is a propagandist rather than a poet. And yet there is something fine in him, as if a strong man’s body were buried under the fat of a glutton.

LITERARY STUDIES The Providence of Wit. Aspects of Form in Augustan Literature and the Arts, by Martin C. Battestin. Oxford $29.95

How does one review what must be one of the most readable and important works in intellectual and literary history to have been published in 1974? Basically, it cannot be done. It can only be said that on any list of the best books published in this category in 1974, Battestin’s work will have to rank very high. The general theme is the subtle relationship between the idea of Nature and the idea of Art from 1660 to 1760 in English literature. The period in question is crucial in the development of the intellectual roots of the modern temper. Beginning with Pope, traveling through Gay, Fielding, Goldsmith, and finally concluding with Swift, Professor Battestin deftly handles each important individual without ever losing sight of what ties them together. The work, however, is more than just these figures; it is also about the impact of Hobbes, Locke, Newton, and the entire range of scientific and aesthetic issues of the time. For a thoughtful, cultivated discussion of this period in all its aspects, this is a monumental work.

The Self-Conscious Imagination, by Kathleen Coburn. Oxford $5.75

Kathleen Coburn has done more than any other scholar to make Coleridge accessible to our time. As editor of the “Notebooks” and as general editor of the “Collected Works,” she has demonstrated the present significance of Coleridge. In these three Riddell Memorial Lectures, she uses the “Notebooks” to explain Coleridge’s ideas about the self. She demonstrates that he saw self-awareness—consciousness—as a means for self-development. For Coleridge, she writes, “it is n


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