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Soul Says

Soul Says

On Recent Poetry

Helen Vendler

ISBN 9780674821477

Publication date: 10/01/1996

Join Professor Helen Vendler in her course lecture on the Yeats poem "Among School Children". View her insightful and passionate analysis along with a condensed reading and student comments on the course.

To know the poetry of our time, to look through its lenses and filters, is to see our lives illuminated. In these eloquent essays on recent American, British, and Irish poetry, Helen Vendler shows us contemporary life and culture captured in lyric form by some of our most celebrated poets. An incomparable reader of poetry, Vendler explains its power; it is, she says, the voice of the soul rather than the socially marked self speaking directly to us through the stylization of verse. "Soul Says," the title of a poem by Jorie Graham, is thus the name of this collection. In essays on Seamus Heaney, Donald Davie, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, Rita Dove, Jorie Graham, and others, Vendler makes difficult poetry accessible. She reveals the idiosyncratic nature of lyric form, and points out the artistic choices present in even the simplest texts. Vendler examines the use of abstraction in lyric poems; considers what readers seek and receive from verse; describes the role of such stylistic devices as compression, structural dynamics, and syntactic ordering; and renders a wide variety of poetic styles meaningful. Through her perceptive eyes we see how lyric poetry, speaking with natural musicality and rhythm, can by arrangement, pacing, metaphor, and tone create symbol from fact-and fill us with new understanding. In these direct and engaged commentaries, she explores the force, beauty, and intellectual complexity of contemporary lyric verse.

Praise

  • [review of Soul Says, The Given and the Made, and The Breaking of Style] Helen Vendler is justly admired as the author of critical studies of George Herbert, Keats, W. B. Yeats, and Wallace Stevens. Her current project is a study of Shakespeare's sonnets. She is also the most influential reviewer of contemporary poetry in English: her reviews of new books of poetry appear frequently and forcefully in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Parnassus, and other journals. Soul Says...is a collection of her recent reviews...[H]er gifts are so immense...The new books have a number of such [acute] analyses, continuously alert to the detail of the poems...One of the pleasures of reading Vendler's criticism is that of seeing a poet's achievement lavishly appreciated...The most valuable chapters in the three new books are those in which Vendler leads us through difficult poems...After [she does so], the poem is still to be read, and read again, word by word, line, sequence, image cut into image. We have to get back from the discursive model, which Vendler so clearly describes, to the local movement and texture of the poem. But after Vendler's commentary we are in a much better position to do so. I cannot think of a better justification for a critic's work.

    —Denis Donoghue, New York Review of Books

Author

  • Helen Vendler is A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University.

Book Details

  • 284 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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