I generally don’t care for omnibus reviews. They too often display what Seamus Heaney called a “faults-on-both-sides tact,” and as a result one doesn’t get a point of view so much as ad hoc approval or condemnation, often enough with less than half a dozen lines quoted from any of the books because the reviewer is so anxious to demonstrate his or her own prowess with words.
Of course, that “generally” in my first sentence begs the question of particulars. In the particular case of David Mason, I welcome all his reviews, even the omnibus reviews like this one in the new issue of The Hudson Review, because (a) he is unfailingly intelligent in his judgements, even when—not all that frequently—I disagree with them, and (b) he enjoys quoting at some length, which gives the poets under review a fair chance to be heard. The quotations are why, as soon as I finished reading the review, I immediately ordered all the books I could find by Stephanos Papadopoulos, a poet new to me.
Mason is also excellent at the sweeping but grounded statement. Viz.:
Most contemporary poets I read seem too concerned with avoiding ridicule, trying to be the smartest kid in the workshop, rather than plumbing what Eliot called ‘the inexplicable mystery of sound’—bodying forth a whole charged expression of living. Much of our poetry seems denatured, flat. Intelligence abounds, cleverness is everywhere, but vitality is hard to find.”
Consider that phrase, “a whole charged expression of living.” The older I get, the less patience I have for anything less. It’s easy to demand such accomplishment from others, of course, and a bit more daunting to demand of the poet in the mirror….