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This review is taken from PN Review 149, Volume 29 Number 3, January - February 2003.

COMPLACENCIES OF THE PEN X.J. KENNEDY, The Lords of Misrule (The Johns Hopkins University Press)

X.J. Kennedy's The Lords of Misrule takes its title from the premodern festivals at which the world was turned upside down, with everyone having the liberty of forgetting their 'place.' The liberty of the days of misrule acted as a safety valve and consequently had carefully prescribed and customary rules to make sure things didn't get out of hand. In Kennedy's take, the Lords of Misrule are the censors who choreograph the order of disorder: 'They confine jubilation/To tolerable order,/Disperse fornicators/From the high altar.' The Lords are, in other words, formalists: 'Come then, sweet Meter,/Come, strict-lipped Stanza,/Regulate the revels/Of these half crocked lines.' It's interesting that Kennedy sees the festivals of misrule as occasions for personal (fornicating, drinking) license instead of the carefully calculated pre-political events that they were, events at which the play held the threat of social danger. Very much the modern, suburban man, Kennedy cannot really see a life outside the personal. Consequently, there is a gap between Kennedy's promising 'invocation' of his purpose - to use traditional poetic forms to simultaneously express and order misrule - with an execution in which the author's formal prowess does not suit the banality of the life which it describes. 'Obscenity,' is seventeen four line stanzas (rhymed abab) on post-modernism's virtualization of sex, concluding - in good misrule fashion - by urging (after the obligatory reference to Rabelais): 'True lovers let us praise/and pure indecency.' It's hard to believe that Kennedy doesn't notice that he is ending where he ...


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