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This review is taken from PN Review 189, Volume 36 Number 1, September - October 2009.


Frederick Seidel’s suave esotericism, his tongue-in-cheek seriousness, and his easeful ranging between high culture and consumerism, make John Ashbery the most obvious poet to compare him to. Both are Harvard graduates with a sensibility shaped by a combination of bohemian New York and chic Europeanism. Seidel’s characteristic poetic line - heavily end-stopped; mock epigrammatic - is his most obvious divergence from Ashbery, whose rhetorically cumulating, enjambed flow is so familiar. For Seidel the end of the line is a dead end, a point of exhaustion expressive of his languid nihilism. Heavy and often deliberately inept rhymes add to the abruptness with which his lines culminate:

I’m talking about the way poetry made me free.
It’s treated me very well, you see.
I climbed up inside the Statue of Liberty
In the days when you could still go up in the torch, and that was me.
I mean every part I play.
I’m drinking my lunch at Montrachet.

In this stanza from ‘Drinking in the Daytime’ there is a comic unpredictability (or perhaps inevitability if the number of available rhymes can be said to create a degree of determinacy) not unlike the forced rhymes that surface in Byron’s ottava rima. Seidel’s haphazard approach - seemingly at odds with his scrupulousness in matters of taste but actually an extension of his decadent insouciance - is capable of discovering such brilliant images as ‘The beach chair has the thighs of a ...

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