John Logan Essay - Critical Essays


Despite winning critical acclaim and the respect of his peers, John Logan never enjoyed a wide readership. The reasons are many, but most important is the fact that, like Walt Whitman, Logan was an intensely personal poet who demanded an ultimate commitment from his reader. Logan’s poetry transcends the ordinary form of things and transforms those things into something more real, more useful, than conventional reality. Consequently, the reader of a Logan poem cannot in any way remain passive; instead, he must confront the shadow or inarticulate counterself that exists within. Logan’s commitment to this type of self-searching was absolute, and while such intensity may alienate some readers, his insistent demands lend power, depth, and psychological complexity to the poems. At his best, Logan explored the inner self without moral judgment, conceit, sentimentalism, or self-pity. Instead, he uncovered what at first seems threatening and perhaps grotesque in order to reveal what is finally beautiful in all living things. Logan built a personal poetry from his own obsessions: grace, the search for more than anonymous love, the friend or lover as rescuer, the father-son relationship, death, and poetry as rebirth.

“Poem for My Brother”

“Poem for My Brother” (from The Bridge of Change), a characteristic Logan poem, dramatizes the desire for acceptance and reconciliation between brothers that have grown apart. The younger of the two feels intimidated—or at least awkward—around his more athletic elder sibling and wants desperately to identify with him. This sense of physical and emotional alienation pervades Logan’s poetry, paralleling a similar alienation in his career as a writer.

In “Poem for My Brother,” Logan explained the many differences between the poet and his elder brother, but always with a desire for identification. The contrasts between the two remain sharp (as illustrated by the brothers’ colors, blue and brown), and this is what gives the poem its natural power. A capsulized history of the color blue included in the poem explains that many societies still do not have a word other than “dark” for this “last of the primary colors to be named.” “It’s associated with black. . . .” Blue, for Logan, represented the other, the society of other lovers to which Logan sought admission—a place where, had he gained access, he would not have stayed. Logan realized that the redemption and grace of being accepted and forgiven is only temporary since any person soon finds himself alone again as he began, arguing only with himself, and being accountable, in the final analysis, only to himself. The tension between desire for the other and the knowledge that the consequent redemption is only temporary fuels much of Logan’s poetry.

Grace through rescue

Grace, by Logan’s assessment, is the escape from anxiety through supernatural means—the sacraments and divine redemption—or through natural means: art and love. Logan’s need for forgiveness and its subsequent grace motivated his outward and inward search, and his poems often showed that such rare and precious gifts are not easily won. Indeed, implicit in Logan’s poetry was the necessity for taking risks. Even in the early Cycle for Mother Cabrini, Logan charged his poems with a nervous energy that thrives on the anticipation of danger. At the same time, the volume overflows with classical allusions, establishing Logan as an extension of the poetic tradition that he revered. He carried on “The Lives of the Poet,” the first poem in Ghosts of the Heart, both figuratively and literally; that is, the book begins a tradition of poems celebrating the lives of other poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Lord Byron, that continues with E. E. Cummings, John Keats, James Joyce, and Dylan Thomas, to name only a few, through several of the other books. These homages, tributes, and elegies not only reassert the presence of literary figures in the reader’s consciousness, but also often reveal a great deal about Logan’s feelings and position as a poet.

Spring of the Thief deals primarily with the need for...

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