Mona Van Duyn | Critical Review by Harvey Shapiro

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Mona Van Duyn.
This section contains 391 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Harvey Shapiro

Critical Review by Harvey Shapiro

SOURCE: "As Three Poets See Reality," in The New York Times, Vol. 123, September 22, 1973, p. 22.

In the following review, Shapiro provides a mixed review of Merciful Disguises.

Mona Van Duyn's poems, crammed with reality, present a curious case. She has been much honored by the academy—a National Book Award and a Bollingen—but among the poets in New York she has few readers. That has to do with the nature of her reality: She writes as a wife, indeed as a housewife, putting up poems as another good woman might put up peaches (she can begin "An Essay on Criticism" with a description of making prepared onion soup). Her poems describe vacation trips to the mountains or the shore. She writes about female friends, children, relatives. All of this is patently unfashionable. Unfashionable also is the fact that her poems have subjects. More damning than that, there is the basic assumption in her work that it is possible to elicit meaning from the world.

The early poems [in Merciful Disguises] sometimes wobble unsteadily (reading this book, a collection of all her work to date, is a bit like watching an ungainly girl grow into a graceful woman) because of the disparity between the prosaic, even folksy, detail and the very learned, literary and skilled mind alive in the language, propelling the poem. The effect is of the rhetoric sometimes jumping away from the detail into its own orbit. This plus excessive detail makes the poems difficult to take in. I assume some of this is intentional—modern metaphysical—but it misfires.

In the last poems of A Time of Bees (1964) there begins a chastening of language and detail that brings them together into a complete saying (for example, the moving "A Garland for Christopher Smart," based on quotations from his Jubilate Agno). And this success is repeated throughout To See, To Take (1970), particularly in "A Day in Late October." "Postcards from Cape Split," "What I Want to Say," "The Good Man." These are not poems that begin with a lyric impulse. They are essayistic, discursive but powerful in their wisdom.

      What do you think love is, anyway?
      I'll tell you, a harrowing.
      And I stand here helpless with what I know,
      because in that Ministry
      to be understood leads straight to the room
      where understanding stops
      and a final scream is that of the self
      preserving itself.

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This section contains 391 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Harvey Shapiro
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