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Good to see brilliant poet and scholar Ben Mazer get a review in a recent issue of the NYRB from Helen Vendler no less for his scholarly Collected John Crowe Ransom.

She admires Ben's editorial work but is almost comically prim in doling out praise to Ransom himself, who she seeks to place as resolutely minor-minor. Her understanding of his Christian ironies is oddly limited. For instance she asks what a poem that references roses and hay has to do with Christ? Anyone familiar with religious symbolism can answer that in seconds.

She claims it strange to title a book Poems About God in 1919; yet that collection is a collection of poems about religious belief. She later accuses Ransom of writing as God in "a language never heard on earth or heaven" which is a rather odd complaint. If God does not exist poets can surely invent any language they want for Her; if She does exist, explain Miltonic rhetoric as being any less eccentric?

Indeed, Vendler's main quarrel seems to be with modernism balanced by high lyrical modes and aims; Ransom's exquisite cruel ironies of diction which I love (primly propped) etc she reviles as inexpert or quaint. Well, no. Ransom was a very urbane agrarian indeed. His best poems show a mastery of style over content that Winters and Gunn would aspire to.

It is one of Vendler's faults to expect poetic diction to organically enact empirical equivalents (as in Heaney) but there is a poetics of style that sees the poem as its own end. Ransom can be read as a disciple of Pater or Wilde. He is certainly a pleasure to read. If he is minor I am happy to be of his party.


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Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
I becamea dot of sand


With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.