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Hand and Foot

John Kerrigan: Seamus Heaney, 27 May 1999

Opened Ground: Poems 1966-96 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 478 pp., £20, September 1998, 0 571 19492 3
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The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: A Critical Study 
by Neil Corcoran.
Faber, 276 pp., £9.99, September 1998, 0 571 17747 6
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Seamus Heaney 
by Helen Vendler.
HarperCollins, 188 pp., £15.99, November 1998, 0 00 255856 4
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... proved ‘congenial to the United States poetry establishment – particularly to its queen, Helen Vendler’. Noting with far too much cynicism the usefulness of her reviews in advancing the poet’s reputation, Fennell accuses Heaney of opting for Vendler’s belief that good poetry is ‘a private musing ...

At the RA

Jeremy Harding: Richard Diebenkorn, 7 May 2015

... illustrated an elegant volume of Yeats’s poems from Arion Press in San Francisco, introduced by Helen Vendler. Vendler had already done an edition of Ashbery’s ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’ for Arion, printed on roundel pages – wheels of paper 18” in diameter – with work by several artists, including ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Cooking for Geeks, 21 November 2013

... sorbet and ampoules of reduced prawn head bouillon (two Adrià signature dishes). On the other, Helen Vendler. Outcome not obvious. What we outsiders didn’t know is that all undergraduates at Harvard are required to take at least one class in science. As a result, the university offers some courses designed to be appealing to the kinds of student who ...


Ian Sansom, 11 December 1997

The Bounty 
by Derek Walcott.
Faber, 78 pp., £14.99, July 1997, 0 571 19130 4
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... obsesses minor poets,’ Walcott has written, and not just minor poets, but major critics too – Helen Vendler has accused Walcott of ventriloquism.) His genius may be intermittent and may have taken a long time to emerge – his best work doesn’t begin until 1973, with the publication of his fourth collection, the autobiographical Another Life ...


Stephanie Burt: Lucia Perillo, 17 November 2016

Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones: Selected and New Poems 
by Lucia Perillo.
Copper Canyon, 239 pp., $23, February 2016, 978 1 55659 473 1
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... it’s ‘best not to listen/for any decibels of little mandibles’. The poems include what Helen Vendler, in Last Looks, Last Books (2010), names ‘the pressure of death within life’, ‘the weary desire for freedom from the body’, but they also raise new hopes, novelties, icons of life that goes on. In lesser hands these attempts would lead ...

A Susceptible Man

Ian Sansom: The Unhappy Laureate, 4 March 1999

Living in Time: The Poetry of C. Day Lewis 
by Albert Gelpi.
Oxford, 246 pp., £30, March 1998, 0 19 509863 3
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... determine its size and shape, its character and its content, and they deserve our attention. When Helen Vendler begins her recent book on Seamus Heaney, for example, ‘I am grateful to Seamus Heaney, first and foremost, for all the invaluable poetry and prose that he has added to the store of literature in English,’ you can be fairly sure that she’s ...

O Harashbery!

C.K. Stead, 23 April 1992

The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara 
edited by Donald Allen.
Carcanet, 233 pp., £18.95, October 1991, 0 85635 939 4
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Flow Chart 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 213 pp., £16.95, September 1991, 0 85635 947 5
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... imagined as O’Hara’s piano teacher. In Bloom’s Yale collection of essays on Ashbery, Helen Vendler, with typical forthrightness, considers the question of the poet’s ‘subject-matter’: ‘it is popularly believed, with some reason, that’ his style is ‘impenetrable, that it is impossible to say what an Ashbery poem is ...

Mr Who He?

Stephen Orgel: Shakespeare’s Poems, 8 August 2002

The Complete Sonnets and Poems 
by William Shakespeare, edited by Colin Burrow.
Oxford, 750 pp., £65, February 2002, 9780198184317
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... numerous double meanings . . . are too obvious to need an explanation.’ (Reason not the need: Helen Vendler, in The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, glosses ‘conscience’ as ‘knowledge of cunt’.) Ingram and Redpath approach the young man in an especially gingerly fashion, suggesting that ‘the relationship was one of profound and at times ...


John Kerrigan, 2 April 1987

The Faber Book of Contemporary American Poetry 
edited by Helen Vendler.
Faber, 440 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 571 13945 0
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Selected Poems 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 348 pp., £16.95, April 1986, 0 85635 666 2
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The Poetry Book Society Anthology 1986/87 
edited by Jonathan Barker.
Hutchinson, 94 pp., £4.95, November 1986, 0 09 165961 2
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Two Horse Wagon Going By 
by Christopher Middleton.
Carcanet, 143 pp., £5.95, October 1986, 0 85635 661 1
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... Professor Vendler’s soul is in peril. Reviewing Black American broadsides in 1974, she found it ‘sinful that anthologies and Collected Works should betray the poems they print by jamming them together and running them into one another.’ Yet here is her Faber Book, a self-confessed anthology which, attempting to present 35 poets ‘whole’, aspires to be a collection of Collecteds ...

The Devilish God

David Wheatley: T.S. Eliot, 1 November 2001

Words Alone: The Poet T.S. Eliot 
by Denis Donoghue.
Yale, 326 pp., £17.95, January 2001, 0 300 08329 7
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Adam’s Curse: Reflections on Religion and Literature 
by Denis Donoghue.
Notre Dame, 178 pp., £21.50, May 2001, 0 268 02009 4
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... least. Critics unimpressed by the psychodrama of Eliot’s Christianity, such as Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler, much prefer Yeats and Stevens. And as a glance at any anthology of 20th-century British poetry will show, the prewar voices most audible today belong to Auden and MacNeice. From the maudlin Tom and Viv to Peter Ackroyd’s unauthorised Life ...

On Laura Kasischke

Stephanie Burt: Laura Kasischke, 2 August 2018

... with The Infinitesimals, in between.) Kasischke’s poems let some of us say about them what Helen Vendler once said about the early books of Adrienne Rich: ‘someone my age was writing down my life.’ Kasischke has chronicled her generation, the generation where wild kids learned to smoke, and then learned, as adults, never to smoke: the memory ...

The Poetry of John Ashbery

John Bayley, 2 September 1982

Shadow Train 
by John Ashbery.
Carcanet, 50 pp., £3.25, March 1982, 0 85635 424 4
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... seems to try to render in exact terms. Most contemporary American poetry wants only to offer what Helen Vendler has called ‘an interior state clarified in language’. ‘Clarified’ is an ambiguous word here, meaning the poetry’s effort to achieve the effect of being clear on the page. In Ashbery’s case the wordage trembles with a perpetual ...

In the Workshop

Tom Paulin: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 22 January 1998

The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 672 pp., £23.50, December 1997, 0 674 63712 7
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Shakespeare's Sonnets 
edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones.
Arden, 503 pp., £7.99, September 1997, 1 903436 57 5
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... alone are certain good.’ And then I began to wonder where I could find such a book. Helen Vendler’s long study of the art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, is that purely aesthetic study of poetic language in action, and it begins appropriately with this statement: ‘I assume that a poem is not an essay, and that its paraphrasable ...

Emily v. Mabel

Susan Eilenberg: Emily Dickinson, 30 June 2011

Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds 
by Lyndall Gordon.
Virago, 491 pp., £9.99, April 2011, 978 1 84408 453 1
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Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 535 pp., £25.95, September 2010, 978 0 674 04867 6
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... enjoyed being one.’ But was she a riddle that wanted to be solved? Did she want readerly guests? Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries and Lyndall Gordon’s Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds take different positions on this question. In the more ambitious and freewheeling of the two studies, Gordon ...

A Hammer in His Hands

Frank Kermode: Lowell’s Letters, 22 September 2005

The Letters of Robert Lowell 
edited by Saskia Hamilton.
Faber, 852 pp., £30, July 2005, 0 571 20204 7
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... quite like this. At the other, gentler end of the scale of violence are many exercises in what Helen Vendler calls ‘minimalist colloquiality’. Poems, unlike manic episodes, were subject to control. Such was Lowell’s strong conviction when, as an undergraduate, he chose to study with Ransom and Tate. His unflagging concern with verse technique is ...

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