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This review is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

FLIGHTS AND FALLS Richard Kenney, The Evolution of the Flightless Bird (Yale University Press) $5.95 pb.

James Merrill did well to choose Richard Kenney's The Evolution of the Flightless Bird as the seventy-ninth volume in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. It is an ambitious and accomplished first book of poems. Kenney at his best is master of a densely-packed style, rich in alliteration, metaphor, and allusion. What characterizes the book is its continual attempt to trace genealogical and cultural roots where uprootedness is the dominant trend. The poetry of deracination and its symptoms is nothing new, but Kenney's verse distinguishes itself in the doggedly empirical attitude it takes to its search. Kenney, in fact, often adopts the tone and terms of a scientist, as his title reveals. 'In April', a poem that seems directed at Eliot, diagnoses an end-of-the-winter slump, but from the angle of a physicist or physician:


In April, in New England, the earth ball yields
under its own mass, gives in to dead
gravity, loses tone, relinquishing
the rigor of the last freeze like slack skin
fallen . . .


'Mass', 'gravity', muscle 'tone' come from science's word-hoard.

'The Hours of the Day', the opening sequence, is the outstanding poem in the book, but resembles all of the others in being composed of irregularly metred and rhymed 'sonnets'. Robert Lowell's fourteen-line poems in History and Notebook may have provided precedents but, while matching Lowell's erudition, they possess little of his acrid despair and sarcasm. Kenney's narrator is ...


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