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

Pondering the Issues david baker, Show Me Your Environment: Essays on Poetry, Poets and Poems (University of Michigan Press) $30

David Baker has produced nine collections of poetry and several works of criticism, and in 2011 was awarded the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize. Raised in Missouri, he now lives in Ohio, chairs the Creative Writing department at Denison University and is currently poetry editor of The Kenyon Review. With regard to his academic engagement, Baker maintains, ‘[In] teaching and writing, I try to be a very clear, practical critic’, and these priorities go some way towards explaining the style of this collection of essays. The book is separated into three sections, as the title suggests: ‘Poetry’ offers an informal and predominantly autobiographical approach to a handful of broad themes (the environment, environmental damage and the role of poetry and transcendence), alongside a brief consideration of his own enthusiasm for the guitar; ‘Poets’ rattles through an eclectic range of profiles (as an indicative cross-section – George Herbert, Keats, Moore, Dickinson and Whitman to Ted Kooser, Anne Carson, Stanley Plumly and Norman Dubie) that, although sporadically intriguing, often feel too brief or light to offer developed insight; and finally in ‘Poems’ Baker turns his analysis to individual poems.

The blurb summarises Baker’s approach as ‘from the canonical to the contemporary – simply and closely’, which, while accurate, does not always feel like a positive asset. The virtues of clarity and simplicity are here often accompanied by a dissatisfying sense of Baker’s commentary as insubstantial; his poetic analysis often leaves off just as the momentum of an argument or insight gathers force. While the writing often consciously places ...

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