Sublime Misrule

X.J. Kennedy can be said almost to be a popular literary figure.  (A New Jersey native, Joseph Charles Ken-nedy, born in 1929, adopted his pen name upon settling in Massachusetts.)  This is not at all to say that he belongs to popular, or mass, culture.  But his accomplishments in verse have been widely recognized, and deservedly so; and he has helped to make poetry more popular.

The Lords of Misrule, Kennedy’s seventh full-length collection, gathers together a decade’s worth of poems, concluding with “September Twelfth, 2001,” to which are added a few predating 1991.  Many of the poems appeared in a variety of journals and magazines, including Chronicles.  The title refers to the personage, called king, or lord, or abbot of misrule, appointed at the English court in the late 15th century and early 16th to supervise the Christmas revels; similar figures presided in some university colleges and inns of court.  A prefatory poem, “Invocation,” calls down the services of “sweet Meter” and “strict-lipped Stanza” to regulate the revels of the poet’s lines, just as the lords of misrule confined “jubilation / To tolerable order.”  Kennedy places his collection, thus, under the signs of regularity, control, and formal values—features that characterize his work generally.  Control, however, can itself...

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