Mona Van Duyn | Critical Review by Rachel Hadas

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Mona Van Duyn.
This section contains 463 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Richard Lattimore

Critical Review by Rachel Hadas

SOURCE: "Serious Poets," in New York Times Book Review, Vol. 98, July 18, 1993, p. 18.

In the following excerpt, Hadas reviews If It Be Not I and Firefall, and surveys Van Duyn's career.

Mona Van Duyn is a Midwesterner, and her poetry speaks expansively; her lines are loaded like a cornucopia with the things of this world. A wonderful early poem, "Three Valentines to the Wide World" (1959) posits a distrust of unwieldy generalities: I have never enjoyed those roadside overlooks from which you can see the mountains of two states. The view keeps generating a kind of pure, meaningless exaltation that I can't find a use for … a statement so abstract that it's tiresome.

Simply to see and say is never enough. However rich, Ms. Van Duyn's voice is never bland; particularity inflects her love of the world. Firefall, her new collection, varies the pace of the work with skinny "minimalist sonnets" that capture large themes (love, aging) with aphoristic slimness. But in her best and most ambitious poems, Ms. Van Duyn allows her capacious vision the space it needs to sweep the scene, taking in every detail until some kind of epiphany deepens the tone and moves the poem beyond the mundane. "The Stream" is one example; another is "The Delivery," the final piece in Firefall. In familiar smells and muddle of voices, mashed potatoes, dimming light, hamburger, thick creamed corn, the milk-white chill, a self is being born. And is swept away….

The last four words signal the entrance to a figurative world of murkier feelings, deeper waters: to tributary, to river, deep and slow, whose sob-like surges quietly lift her and carry her unjudged freight clear to the mourning sea. And there they are, all of the heavy others (even Mother and Father), the floundering, floating or sinking human herd….

A master of metaphor, Ms. Van Duyn is skilled at transforming the homely to the transcendent, defamiliarizing the utensils of our lives. A battered pasta bowl clasps a marriage ("Mr. and Mrs. Jack Sprat in the Kitchen"); food machines at a turnpike rest stop become hospital denizens ("Emergency Room"). "Letters From a Father," an epistolary novella in verse, details an elderly couple's weaning from self-pity to rapt interest in the birds that flock to their feeder. "Letters" concludes with a single line (from the letters' recipient) whose celebratory valediction and valedictory celebration make it an apt summary of much of Ms. Van Duyn's best work: "So the world woos its children back for an evening kiss."

Utterly unsentimental love for the world turns up everywhere in Mona Van Duyn's work. Auden didn't include wisdom among his criteria, but if to be a major poet is to be wise and sustaining, then … Ms. Van Duyn [meets] this condition, too….

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This section contains 463 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Richard Lattimore
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