This volume of essays celebrates poetry that aims to change the world, whether through engagement with political issues, reimagining the meanings of love, recasting our relationship with nature; or through new relationships with our spiritual traditions. Alicia Ostriker's opening essay, defining the difference between poetry and propaganda, surveys the artistic accomplishments of the women's poetry movement. Succeeding essays explore the meaning of politics, love, and the spiritual life in the work of Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Bishop, Sharon Olds, Maxine Kumin, Lucille Clifton, and Allen Ginsberg.
In her work, Ostriker can be controversial, as when she attacks the academic establishment for rejecting the erotic dimension of poetry, or when she meditates on the significance of the black poet Lucille Clifton to herself as a reader, or when she argues that Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"—famous as the primary poem of the Beat Generation—is also a profoundly Jewish poem. Yet her writing is always lively and readable, free of academic jargon, inviting the reader to enjoy a wide range of poetic styles and experiences.
Ostriker's criticism, like her poetry, is both feminist and deeply humane. These essays on American poetry will appeal to students of poetry, scholars of American literature, and anyone who enjoys the work of the poets discussed in the book.
Alicia Ostriker is the author of nine books of poetry, including The Imaginary Lover, which won the William Carlos Williams Award and The Crack in Everything, which was a National Book award finalist in 1996, and which received the Paterson Prize in 1997 and the San Fransisco State Poetry Center Award in 1998. She is Distinguished Professor of English at Rutgers University.
Review Rattle | 6/30/2009