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Reviews 85 a “dazzling” poet. It’s just that I’m at a loss to explain why such a major university press as Oxford would publish this book. It not only adds nothing new to the field, its brief discussion of the Beats, the New York Poets, and the Black Mountain Poets are quite superficial, sorts of extended Sunday Supplement features. LEE BARTLETT The University of New Mexico The Collected Shorter Poems 1947-1977. By Robin Skelton. (Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press. 328 pages, $14.95.) Robin Skelton is perhaps best known south of the Canadian border as the editor of the distinguished Malahat Review. In Canada, England, and elsewhere, he is widely recognized as one of the most prolific poets presently writing in English, with more than fifty books to his credit including a number of fine prose studies on the nature and craft of poetry as well as translations from Gaelic, Greek, French, and German. But for some inexplic­ able reason, his books have been difficult, if not impossible, to find in the United States. The Collected Shorter Poems spans thirty years of productivity, omitting his longer poems and poems-in-sequence (The Dark Window, A Different Mountain, and Callsigns) as well as his translations. The poet has organized the volume not according to chronological order, but by subject, seventeen by number, permitting the new reader an opportunity to see just how his ideas (as well as his styles) developed over the years. One finds in Skelton a classical bent that is too rarely glimpsed these days. There are echoes of Graves, Yeats, and the gamut of English poetics. But he is not a post-Modern reactionary, he is no card-carrying New Critic. Rather, Skelton has worked from the best of the Modern traditions, now metrical and rhymed, now organic in the best sense of that term. What is most obvious in his Collected is a fine ear combined with a directness of style that is unusually candid. In “A Chain of Daisies,” the poet remembers a girl who died, perhaps of tuberculosis: “. . . And I can’t tell her / what I think. It seems ridiculous: a thin / flat-chested girl, / grassblades sticking to my / knees, crouched there / upon the balding / lawn, her chains / of daisies lengthening through / my smaller hands. // It sounds ridiculous; / and she, too, clowned, / laughed till her breath / gave out, then sat / fanning her yellow head / with dockleaves, crinkling / nose and eye to / ridicule my doubt. // She was so wise, and / coughed so much. The bed / sweats years of 86 Western American Literature weariness / and love. I turn / for reassurance. Heart / bumps as we come / together, breathless / almost as this girl / arranging daisies in / my mind. I sleep / heavily, as God sleeps / who dreams us all.” Skelton’s approach to his poems is never programmatic. Sticking to the common tools of good writing, his primary concern appears to be a forthright, honest and direct treatment of his subject. He does not dabble in surrealism, he rarely assumes the public posture of the poet on the stage. There is a richness and a range to Skelton’s poems that is rapidly dis­ appearing in our culture as more and more poets imitate not the great masters of the past, but the current fads of the writing programs and reading circuits. One leaves Skelton’s Collected Shorter Poems feeling that, yes, this is a natural poet who combines a natural gift with a strong sense of discipline. And one hopes for a collected longer poems to follow, and perhaps even for a collected translations. For, as Skelton says in a poem to Robert Graves, “Poetry is studying / how the spirit soars / on learned as on simple / ignor­ ant things.” SAM HAMILL, Port Townsend, Washington Poems Old and New, 1918-1978. By Janet Lewis. (Chicago: Swallow/Ohio University Presses, 1981. 112 pages, $11.00.) While small presses have recently published old and new collections by Janet Lewis, respectively The Indians in the Woods (Matrix) and The Ancient Ones (No Dead Lines), and while Swallow has kept in print Poems 1924/1944, Lewis’s thirty-two-year-old collection, Poems Old and New, 19181978 is the most...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 85-86
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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