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This review is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

Striving and Dreaming susan stewart, The Poet’s Freedom: A Notebook on Making (University of Chicago Press) $26

‘Even with a sketchy knowledge of Kant, Shelley seems to have grasped deeply the complementary and necessary relationship between the imagination and the will.’ Readers who suspect their own grasp of matters phenomenal and noumenal to lie somewhere beneath Shelley’s doubtful standard are advised to begin with chapter six of Susan Stewart’s ‘notebook on making’, by far the most accessible and engaging part of this provoking book. Two short essays on ‘Rhyme’s Opening’ and ‘How Rhymes Rhyme’ awake us to the ‘interiors and exteriors’ of words that are enabled by sound patterning, as rhyme ‘calls us short in our efforts to dominate meaning’. Elegant, efficient close readings sound out Hopkins, Skelton, Blake and Dickinson alongside a Latin hymn, some lines written by a friend of Dante’s and a bit of ‘hiccupping’ Euripides. The translation of Dante da Maiano’s address ‘to Various Makers of Rhyme’, stowed among the end-notes, is one of the book’s several treats. The speaker reports that in a vision he received a garland from a ‘fair woman’, then found himself wearing her shift:

and as she smiled I kissed her repeatedly.
I will not say what followed – she made me
swear not to. And a dead woman
– my mother – was with her.

Stewart helpfully picks out the sound effects giving this splendid dream report its living qualities in the Italian, while her broader discussion offers a basis for us to track repetition and substitution through the narrative as dominant meaning absconds. She stands sharply ...


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