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This review is taken from PN Review 119, Volume 24 Number 3, January - February 1998.

CHASING AUTOBIOGRAPHY JOYCE CAROL OATES, Tenderness (Ontario Review Press) $18.95
BRUCE BEASLEY, Summer Mystagogia (University Press of Colorado) $14.95
JILL BIALOSKY, The End of Desire (Alfred A. Knopf) $21

An indulgent autobiographical impulse pervades much of contemporary poetry, particularly that produced in the United States, where a post-post-confessional attitude predominates when a workshop mentality does not. The problem with the poeticising of autobiography lies not in its impetus (which, after all, produced poets such as Plath and Berryman), but in the dullness of its execution. When one can differentiate poets only by degrees of suffering, the language of the poems becomes subservient to their content. Poetry workshops and creative writing programs provide a support group for poets' work, but they also push incessantly toward a muddled status quo, squelching formal and linguistic innovation as well as tonal and topical range. Many American literary magazines are staffed by creative writing students, who seem to select work that confirms the value of their own revisions of memory. In the hope of creating poetry, they merely contribute to the proliferation of indistinguishable and undistinguished autobiographical verse.

In their most recent collections, three American poets pursue poems through the hollow chambers of memory. Sometimes the vestiges of the poem-by-committee are apparent even in this small sampling. Joyce Carol Oates and Jill Bialosky both identify the language of the body as braille. Infertility preoccupies Bialosky and Bruce Beasley, but Bialosky's 'It was the dawn of the day / I would never give birth to; the life I would never have' isn't nearly as melodramatic as Beasley's 'Infertility's / on our minds: artificial / insemination, Clomid, / motility and progression / of ...


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