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This review is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

AT HOME John Matthias, Reading Old Friends: Essays, Reviews, and Poems on Poetics 1975-1990 (State University of New York Press) $49.50, $16.95 pb

Topophilia,' wrote Auden, himself a poet particularly attuned to landscapes, 'differs from the farmer's love of his home soil and the litterateur's fussy regional patriotism in that it is not possessive or limited to any one locality/ The poet John Matthias, a consummate topophil, has, over the past two decades, put down roots in English soil as deep as those that bind him to his native American Midwest. His affinity for historical, cultural, and natural landscapes of England is complemented by an exceptional sensitivity for the most subtle rhythms and tones of British poetry. In Reading Old Friends: Essays, Reviews, and Poems on Poetics 1975-1990, Matthias turns his firmly grounded poetic intelligence to a wide range of English and American poets and critics, as well as Turner, Constable, Britten, and the historian Francis Parkman.

Matthias charts his development as a poet in the two most personal essays of this collection, 'Places and Poems' and 'Poetry of Place'. He describes how he learned to 'take the measure of [a] place and find [his] proper station in it' by opening himself to the 'full geological, topographical, natural, historical, and social context' of the region. He quotes liberally from his own poetry, demonstrating the gradual change in his poetic voice from that of an anxious outsider to a voice of one 'at home in the world'. In the process, Matthias deepened his understanding of poets whose work was inspired by the spirit of place, even one as foreign to his ...


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