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This review is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

VISITING THE STOREHOUSE JOHN HOLLANDER, The Work of Poetry (Columbia University Press) $20.50/£13.95
J. D. McCLATCHY, Twenty Questions (Columbia University Press) $15

One of J.D. McClatchy's observations on Elizabeth Bishop clearly articulates the difference between his book and John Hollander's. Writing of One Art, the collection of Bishop's letters edited by Robert Giroux, McClatchy records that she once described the qualities she admired in a poem as 'accuracy, spontaneity and mystery'. And he then goes on to say, 'These same qualities shine through these letters. They prefer the anecdote to the idea; there is little of the speculative brio one finds in, say, Flannery O'Connor's letters.' Where Hollander's text flashes with 'speculative brio', McClatchy captures a fascinating sidelight on a subject, animating it with an anecdote or quote. His storehouse of apt and delightful quotations is referenced in a chapter of entries from a commonplace book, in which he says: 'I collect phrases because of the way, in each, something is put that is both precise and surprising.' Again, this describes well his own collection of essays, for it is full of moments of pinpoint accuracy - not in the intellectual or critical senses so much as in matters of feeling, for frequently he seems to point very clearly to the heart of a reader's response.

Hollander and McClatchy are concerned in particular, in quite different ways, to describe the situation of contemporary American poetry. And both are well aware that this task involves writing-around rather than simply writing-down, so in their essays both cite sources of and influences upon the American imagination. And both - especially McClatchy - ...


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