7 poets from The New Criterion

7 poets from The New Criterion

The New Criterion publishes monthly articles on poetry, theater, art, music, the media, and books, and was founded in 1982 to provide a conservative view of the arts and American politics. It has some of the most thoughtful and well-written articles on the Internet, and has a paid-for circulation around 6,500. I subscribed to the magazine for many years, in fact, though there were two areas that held little appeal. One was its political stance, and the other was its poetry, which was generally lacking, I thought, in the larger imaginative dimensions we expect of the art. Readers may well think differently, of course, and I here showcase the better work published in the last two years that can be accessed gratis through the New Criterion webpages. The majority is by poets published in respectable magazines, and some of its contributors are well-known translators.

The first, by Joseph Coleman, is entitled Smelt Shacks and can be read here: http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Smelt-shacks-7763

It starts and continues as well-written prose:

The frost-heaved road lined
with cord on cord of wood
weaved down to River Bend Smelt-
Camps. The office had a roaring fire;
sixty dollars to fish the tide
in a little tin smelt shack.

With close, evocative description:
Each side of the floor has
a trough of open water, emerald-
green water, like the brackish
waters off Porters Landing
in summer; diving deep into
cold black, arching spines
to a sun-shafted surface . . .

And ends in the usual epiphany:

there is no action, there is nothing
but deep booms and moans
from under an aching ice,
bruised ice heaving
from a rising tide,
anxious ice from a nervous-
breakup, of a tilting earth.

Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait is by Ben Downing and can be read here:


It’s very short and self-explanatory. So as not to infringe copyright I’ll quote just the beginning and end:

“If youth only knew,
if age only could.”
O saddest of proverbs,

What, no golden mean?
Perhaps just a sliver,
wedged in between.

The Illusionist by Michael Shewmaker uses visual rhyme throughout, and can be read here: http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-illusionist-7686

Again there is the sensible matter-of-factness that makes a welcome change to the free verse improbabilities that are common today. It starts:

Without the usual work of wands,
she dazzles solely with her hands.

And ends 10 lines later with:

And though
you know the limits of the eye,
her sleight-of-hand, the hidden lie,
you choose to see as through a sieve.
You still applaud. You still believe.

Elegy is by the classicist and translator A E Stallings and can be read here: http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Elegy-7605

It’s a loose sonnet, rhymed a b b c d a e c f f d g h e i h i, where, once again, the lines are solidly constructed but also have some of the subtle cadences that make for good verse. I quote the first and last two lines:

The finery of childhood-let them wear
It every day, in rain or shine. Don’t lose

The finery they did not spoil with use
That lies in drawers, unblemished and outgrown.

Of fast & loose is by David Barber, and can be read here: htttp://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Of-fast—loose-7609 It’s a simple, intelligent piece that starts promisingly:

Now I’ll tell you how
To knit a tight knot
In a bit of cloth
And then undo it
With a word or two.

But ends up not quite saying anything:

To do what you do
With a bit of show
And an oath or two
As if it were caught
As you let it out
With your bated breath

The same can unfortunately be said of Apollo & Daphne by Amy Glynn Greacen, which can be read here:

It’s of course very difficult to do justice to one art in the terms of another, particularly if this poem refers to the virtuoso Bernini sculptor. The piece starts well, and indeed maintains a neat a b b a c d d c d e e d f g g f h i i h j k k  j l m m l rhyme scheme without much contrivance:

The block yields up the girl, just as he’d hoped.
Dead pale, appalled and rooted to the spot.
Turn. Then there’s him, the stricken god, in hot
pursuit of a quarry elegantly troped

It’s perhaps that elegance that undoes the poem. We have the chase, Daphne’s refusal, the transformation to a tree, and then something of a let down with the final:

Longing. The scent of bay will always be most strong
In full sun. Turn. The contrapposto twists
From stone to girl to tree-each cut insists
We see it’s been all locked up, all along.

Mirror by Richie Hofman is at:
http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Mirror-7525  and starts with a enigmatic quotation by James Merrill:


Again this is clearly quality verse: sensible, neatly turned and rhymed:

You’d expect a certain view from such a mirror-
than one which hangs in the entry and decays.
I gaze

But ending without surprise or illumination with:

I thought I’d see the faces of the dead.
the faces of the ghosted silver sea
saw me.

So: traditional poetry, intelligently crafted but sometimes lacking the felicity of phrasing that evokes emotion and shapes it memorably. That’s a vast improvement on the more pretentious stuff that crowds the small presses, no doubt, which often doesn’t deliver on its promises, but these pieces do sail rather close to versified prose.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *