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This review is taken from PN Review 54, Volume 13 Number 4, March - April 1987.

POETS THINKING Donald Justice, Platonic Scripts ($7.95);
Charles Simic, The Uncertain Certainty ($8.95);

John Frederick Nims, A Local Habitation ($7.95);

Louis Simpson, The Character of the Poet ($8.95);
in the Poets on Poetry series of the University of Michigan; John Frederick Nims, Western Wind (2nd ed., Random House)

Perhaps it was the observation that some of the best criticism of poetry has been written by critics who were themselves poets that led to the establishment of the University of Michigan's 'Poets on Poetry' series. Johnson, Coleridge, and Eliot are usually named as the front rank of poet-critics, with Arnold and Empson leading the critic-poets close behind. All five combine unusual intelligence with an analytical cast of mind. It is difficult to describe these accidents of temperament without elevating the exemplars to some supreme status in the world of poetry; Wordsworth and Yeats, after all, did not have an analytical cast of mind.

The existence of a series like this is due to the proliferation of academic literary criticism and university publishing; its raison d'etre is the need for students to write papers - otherwise these writings of poets on poetry, and their interviews, would remain in specialist magazines. Any college or university library can now own this set of what used to be called 'Collected Prose' without having to worry about subscribing to the little magazines in which the pieces first appeared. Professional critics will find them useful; students will have them added to their reading lists.

There is a lurking expectation that poets will, by virtue of their special sensitivity to language, read better than the rest of us, and that they will be able to convey their understanding. Some of what we expect when we read criticism by poets will be ...


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