Wallace Stevens

"The quiet authority of Wallace Stevens' voice entered my mind like a life-saving transfusion."

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Nobility Eclipsed

Sanctuary in the Wilderness: A Critical Introduction to American Hebrew PoetryBy Alan Mintz (Stanford University Press, 520 pp., $65) I. ON DECEMBER 17, 2007, on the storied stage of the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York, the Hebrew language—its essence, its structure, its metaphysic— entered American discourse in so urgent a manner as to renew, if not to inflame, an ancient argument. The occasion was a public conversation between Marilynne Robinson and Robert Alter: a not uncommon match of novelist with literary scholar.

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The Deleted WorldBy Tomas TranströmerVersions by Robin Robertson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 41 pp., $13) The Great Enigma: New Collected PoemsBy Tomas TranströmerTranslated by Robin Fulton (New Directions, 262 pp., $17.95) Thirty-six years ago, I wrote that Tomas Tranströmer’s verses were “poems of an almost prehistoric sort, with their severe music and their archaic austerity of language.” Thirteen years ago, reviewing the New Collected Poems, I reported the common opinion concerning the Swedish poet—that “Tranströmer is frequently, and justly, mentioned as a poet deserving the [Nobel] priz

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The Casuist

Political argument is never pure. I do not mean that it is always influenced by interests. I do not believe that. Even as the black arts of influence flourish as never before, I quixotically insist upon the possibility of objectivity, because without it this democracy is doomed. Logic and evidence (which must be funded!) will sooner or later thwart the attempts of the powerful—numerically, financially—to define the true. The integrity of argument is one of the requirements of a political order that determines its course by the expression, and the evaluation, of opinion.

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The Shaman

The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life By Harold Bloom (Yale University Press, 357 pp., $32.50) With The Anatomy of Influence, Harold Bloom has promised us his “swan song” as a critic. Fat chance.

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The Lonely Workman

Descartes' Loneliness By Allen Grossman (New Directions, 70 pp., $16.95) At the start of Descartes' Loneliness, the tenth collection of poetry by Allen Grossman, the speaker has posed a question to the world that we, the readers, have arrived too late to hear. The book begins, in the title poem, with the world's response: Toward evening, the natural light becomes intelligent and answers, without demur: "Be assured! You are not alone..." Perhaps the question expressed solitude, even the fundamental solitude of the uncertain and inconsolable human mind.

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Athwart History

Although he remains the most eminent conservative in the United States, his face and voice recognized by millions, William F. Buckley, Jr. has all but retired from public life. At the apex of his influence, when Richard Nixon and, later, Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, Buckley received flattering notes on presidential letterhead and importuning phone calls from Cabinet members worried about their standing in the conservative movement.

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Arrivederci MoMA

 I. THERE IS A PARADOX AT THE heart of any cultural institution. It is that the men and women who dedicate themselves to these essential enterprises exert a fiscal and administrative discipline that has nothing whatsoever to do with the discipline of art, which is a disciplined abandon. I imagine that for anybody who founds or sustains or rescues or re-invents a museum, an orchestra, or a dance company, this tension between the institution and the art comes to feel like a natural paradox. There is always a balancing act involved, which helps to explain why the very greatest institution-builder

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Poetry

Never have so many written with such technical skill: this remark, as often an expression of frustration and dismay as of admiration, has become a commonplace of poetry criticism in the 1970s. Never, of course, have so many written. And published. And competed for a lamentably small audience: there are perhaps more writers than readers of poetry at the present time. In so diminished a sphere the consequences have been, and continue to be, predictable.

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Back in 1931, a magazine called Contempo appeared in Chapel Hill, N.C. By 1934, it had disappeared, but during its brief life it baited the literary establishmentwith Conrad Aiken, Faulkner, Kay Boyle, Pound, Wallace Stevens and D. H. Lawrence. Recently, through the offices of the Kraus Reprint Corporation, a company that specializes in out-of-print periodical publishing, Contempo achieved a belated karma, along with 26 other experimental magazines that include The Dial, Laughing Horse, Little Review and Pagany.

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