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Alfred Corn is one of the most learned and, at the same time, one of the most accessible contemporary poets. His work often displays a Whitman-like embrace of the many facets of contemporary life while demonstrating a dexterous mastery of received and invented forms and meters.
Corn is also a polymath—even describing himself as "globocentric" in an interview at the end of the book—with knowledge and interests extending to languages, theology, music, theater, and the graphic arts. Even though the essays gathered here are all literary in nature, a knowledge of history, of religion, and of the arts underpins every piece, producing a breadth of scope that is refreshing and unpredictable.
The title of the collection, Atlas, is apt in the sense of travel, both physical and abstract. Corn's essays range from a reminiscence of a journey to Elizabeth Bishop's birthplace; to his exchange as a college student of letters with Flannery O'Connor, in which the renowned author writes to Corn about the nature of faith; to his reassessment of Auden's Christmas Oratorio; to his lively look at the Canterbury Tales; to Corn's retrospective consideration of Wordsworth. While many such essay collections limit themselves to the modern and contemporary periods, Corn's enthusiasm for Chaucer and Keats is as fresh and inquisitive as that which he holds for Bishop, Thom Gunn, or Derek Mahon.
These engaging pieces from one of our finest poets and essayists will send the reader back to the original texts with new insights and new questions.
"Few literary critics are so engagingly knowledgeable and so skilled at conveying deep insights, and fewer still are this enjoyable to read."
—Jason Roush, Emerson College, Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
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