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AMug'sGame: CriticalShortcutting MarieBoroff.Language and the Poet: VerbalArtistry in Frost, Stevens, and Moore. Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1979.198pp. Dame!Hoffman,ed. Harvard Guide to Contempormy Amencan Writing. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,1979.618pp. Rushworth M. Kidder. £. £. Cummings: An Introduction to the Poetry. NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1979.275 + xxviiipp. DavidShapiro.John Ashbe,:v: An Introduction to the Poetry. NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1979. 190+ xx pp. Robert White Howard Nemerov once began an "omnibus" review essay by noting that "Books of poetry are written, published, reviewed, forgotten, that's how it goes. Probably the first two steps in the process could be omitted without making any significant change in the highly ritualized situation, in what we mayfairly call the 'status in reality' of books of poetry." All a reviewer might be able to do would be to "blow into them:' on their way to oblivion, "a brief andpuffy little life, so that they live a little. For it iswell known that existence, amongus, isconferred only by public acknowledgement, and for many a poem itwould be a greater tragedy not to be reviewed than not to be written:' With books of criticism, the existential situation is a bit different. An enthusiastic reviewer might invigorate them ever so slightly, or an animadverting reviewer might send a brief chill down their spines, but reviewers actually have very little say in determining the fates of books of criticism, particularly if they be books of criticism published by university presses. Such books won't be forgotten, but will be dispatched to the shelves of libraries- occasionally to the shelves of scholars' libraries, sometimes to theshelves of public libraries, more often to the library shelves of universities, colleges, schools where the study of literature is carried on in more or less organized fashion. Copies of the four books passing in review here are now reposing on the shelves of, in the stacks of, schools all across North America. Some copies are going to be lost, misshelved, razor-bladed, feloniously Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 15,Number 1,Spring 1984, 109-117 110 Robert White abstracted, but most of them will be regularly circulated, not forgotten, circulated to students, and faculty, who will open their pages in quest of information and illumination. Much of what such questers make out in their pages will be transferred, mutatis mutandi, to their thinking about, to their writing about, perhaps even to their lecturing about, American literature. This is not necessarily to be deplored, for much in the thousand or so pages of these four books makes good sense, but it also is not necessarily to be encouraged, for much in these books is lacking in good sense. And, surely, it is better to read Frost and Stevens and Moore and Cummings than to read about them, and far better to know contemporary American literature at first-hand than to be taken ona misleading sight-seeing tour of its treacherous but frequently rewarding terrain. But, as John Ashbery notes at the end of "The Serious Doll": "At sunset there is a choice of two smiles: discreet or serious./In this best of all possible worlds, that is enough." The remarks that follow will be more discreet than serious. Marie Boroff's book will appeal to serious students of stylistics, one of the more serious subsets of literary analysis. Boroff is deft in the categorization and tabulation of specific linguistic features of poetic texts, but her ultimate concern is with how such discrete aspects of language function within larger wholes: "As elements of dramatic form, the features of language coexist ina field of expressive force which energizes them and gives them direction, like iron filings in the neighborhood of a magnetic pole. It is in these 'vectors' of dramatic significance, these reinforcements and resultant saliencies, that form in poetry appears at its most distinctive and characteristic" (p. 9). In Boroff's view the linguistic energies of Frost, Stevens and Moore coalesce within quite different sorts of magnetic fields. In Moore's poetic language, "Specificity is most clearly a distinctive feature"; in Frost, "concreteness" and "simplicity" are most significant; in Stevens, "qualitative" terms are most conspicuous. Boroff undertakes...


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