Robert P. Baird

  • culture November 05, 2010

    Early Autumn by Geoffrey O'Brien

    The idea that elegy is the essence of poetry is an old one, and has always seemed to me worth resisting. This protest is probably the privilege of youth—and, if I'm honest, probably the privilege of privilege—but I prefer to think of it as an insistence that art can be larger than life, and life larger than loss.

    I can't say that Geoffrey O'Brien's Early Autumn quite changed my mind on the question, but this book of elegant, often moving poems certainly forced reconsideration.O'Brien is the editor-in-chief of the Library of America and an accomplished cultural historian who's lent his brisk,

  • culture December 16, 2009

    Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy by Keith Waldrop

    When the shortlist for this year’s National Book Award in poetry was announced, the odds-on favorite, Frederick Seidel’s Poems: 1959-2009, was nowhere to be found. Bill Knott raised the alarm on his blog, “Critically acclaimed as the book of the year, and…it’s not even on the NBA shortlist—what's with that?” Meanwhile, somewhere deep in Brooklyn, the editors of Harper’s and n+1 got together to organize protests and sloganeer. (“Where the hell is Fred Seidel?” they painted on their placards. “Hey, hey, NBA, which rich poet didja spurn today?”)

    No one else seemed much troubled, even though

  • culture November 05, 2009

    Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives, edited by Elizabeth Benedict

    Near the middle of the Inferno, the poet Brunetto Latini tells Dante, “If you follow your star, you cannot fail to reach a glorious port.” The scene is doubly poignant. The first prick comes with Brunetto’s encouragement of his former student, a gesture of generosity that Dante answers with a gratitude that “will be found, as long as I live, in my language.” The second and more lasting poignancy arrives when we remember that Brunetto is speaking from a script of Dante’s devising. The teacher says what he says because those are the words his student wanted to hear.

    In the introduction to her

  • Terra Lucida

    It sometimes seems that cleverness is the sine qua non of contemporary poetry—the tie that binds Kay Ryan and Kenneth Goldsmith, Charles Bernstein and Billy Collins. And if that’s the case, then Joseph Donahue is not a contemporary poet.

    But with Terra Lucida, a book that revises and extends a cycle he’s been publishing since 1998, Donahue stakes a wager that poetry doesn’t have to play to our inner Jon Stewart. In place of superficial ironies and satires, he offers an abiding gravity that colors his work from vision to tone. This deep (but never dour) seriousness is most evident in the poems’


    It’s easy to forget that American poetry was not always as friendly to the middle class as it is today. In the first half of the last century, a generation of poets who grew up reading Flaubert accepted “Épater le bourgeois as the Second Commandment of their art, just after Pound’s “Make it new.” The postwar economic boom changed everything, of course. Flaubert’s motto continued to animate some, but poets like Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, and James McMichael proved that the life of the middle class could truly be a subject (and not merely a target) of real art.

    Campbell McGrath’s Seven Notebooks