Late in the Day

This fine first collection of poems from William Bedford Clark, the renowned Robert Penn Warren scholar who, as the back cover announces, “abandoned poetry as an undergraduate” and returned to it “in late middle age,” is a triumph of elegant formalism.  This volume—which ranges widely in form and motif, from the sacred to the profane, from the personal past to the larger cultural and historical past, from a 1680 massacre of Franciscan martyrs to the cultural chaos of the 1960’s—provides ample reason both to mourn Clark’s long hiatus from writing poetry and to celebrate his return.

I am firm in my somewhat contrarian belief that book reviews, especially brief reviews of poetry volumes, must avoid raising questions that have outlived their uselessness, or posing problems—somehow rooted in the reviewer’s tendentious preoccupation with his own craft as poet—that condemn any possible answer to insignificance.  Tell the reader what’s in the book.  And something about what’s not in the book.  You won’t find here the all too familiar skinny pseudo-imagism stranded at the crossroads of the pictorialist impasse and confused notions of free verse, so characteristic of contemporary poetry.  These poems have no right-side-of-the-page phobia, no words drifting formlessly down the far left side of the page, no disordered typographical romancing of blank space. ...

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