Words Like Quartz

If even a rough correspondence between poetic accomplishment and public reputation existed in America today, R.S. Gwynn would be one of our most widely read and highly honored poets.  The publication of his selected poems, No Word of Farewell, would be an occasion for readers to measure the arc of a 30-year career.  Today, however, when a shallow and self-serving creative-writing establishment doles out literary honors, a maverick like Gwynn remains largely neglected.  Though widely published in journals and chapbooks, Gwynn has previously published only one full-length collection, The Drive-In (University of Missouri Press).  Dana Gioia, in his introduction to Gwynn’s new book, ascribes the poet’s relative obscurity to this odd publication history but leaves unanswered why such a gifted poet has found it so difficult to publish in the first place.  Now that Gwynn’s poetic output has been gathered into one attractive and easily attainable volume, perhaps this contemporary American master will at last find the audience he deserves.  

Gwynn’s poetry exploits the full formal resources of English-language verse.  A master of traditional forms and meters, Gwynn revels in difficult patterns and cunning rhymes.  This classical rigor, combined with a mordant and irreverent wit, has led some critics to classify him as a satirist.  But though he has written...

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