Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sally Van Doren, _Sex at Noon Taxes_

WALT WHITMAN AWARD winner for 2007, and here I am finally getting around to reading it. Whitman winners are usually worth reading, this one being no exception -- though I will grant that the palindromic title is the most intriguing thing in the book, and turns out it was borrowed from the title of a painting by Ed Ruscha.

Each poem is fourteen lines long, though not all present themselves as traditional sonnets; a poem may be seven couplets, for instance, or two stanzas of seven lines. The poems are playfully and wittily self-aware, linguistically savvy.

I particularly liked Van Doren's syntax, which is usually graceful and clever. Pound says somewhere that poetry should be at least as well-written as good prose -- a principle he obviously decided to jettison by the time he composed the Cantos, but I wish more poets followed it more often. There's a honored place for the paratactic, of course, but I wish poets who do use ordinary syntax would pay it at least as much mind as they do their lineation, over which so many obviously agonize, meanwhile letting modifiers dangle and squint.

A likable book, though not an exciting one.

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