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This review is taken from PN Review 105, Volume 22 Number 1, September - October 1995.

IS THERE A NEW WAY OF SEEING? JORIE GRAHAM, Materialism (New Jersey: Ecco Press)
RICHARD KENNEY, The Invention of the Zero (New York: Alfred A. Knopf)

Here are new books by two of the most feted of this generation of American poets, poets presumably writing at the height of their powers, currently receiving a drubbing at the hands of critics. 'By the time the poor reader gets to the campy, overwritten notes and acknowledgements, he wants to put on a rope of garlic and drive a stake through the poet's heart,' William Logan unambivalently concludes of Kenney in The New York Times Book Review. Of Graham he is hardly more complimentary: 'she hasn't half her old gift for metaphor, and she tends to write with the coat-tugging insistence of the quietly deranged.'

Susan Lasher's more civil but equally unsympathetic review of The Invention of the Zero (Pamassus Volume 19, no 2) describes Kenney's language as 'oblique discourse resembling modernisms weirdest collocations', 'an absurd but incredibly energetic hodgepodge' compressed 'to a density that leaves little room for air'. Ultimately dismissing Zero for its lack of invention of 'either a language or a self (though eccentric diction is among her complaints), she calls Kenney a 'show-off and concludes: 'you feel a bit as if you'd been had'.

These reviews caused me some chagrin because both books, though difficult, were tastes I'd worked sedulously to acquire. Indeed, I'd written an ecstatically favourable review of them which had been rejected twice, both times by editors who confided in postscript their own dislike of the books. The praise I had heaped upon Graham and Kenney was ...


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