Judith Johnson Sherwin Essay - Critical Essays

Sherwin, Judith Johnson (Vol. 15)


Sherwin, Judith Johnson 1936–

Sherwin is an American poet, playwright, and short story writer. Her work is characterized by a tragic, intensely personal, vision of contemporary life. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Herbert Leibowitz

In being reduced to a heavy, hard, metallic state, Uranium Poems … almost duplicate verbally the qualities of uranium. Since uranium is the radioactive element used in the making of atom bombs, Mrs. Sherwin has chosen it to represent the destructive element in man, "eager for evil, made for misrule." (p. 503)

[Uranium Poems] are too narrowly imagined, missing that "radiant gist" in pitchblende which William Carlos Williams mentions in Paterson as the salient ingredient of poetry. In spite of rhythmic experiments, some affinities with Blues, and glints of American folkloric humor … the poems resemble the unpleasant hoarse music of Wagner's smiths hammering at their forges in the Ring: a leaden, monotonous, greyish sound. (p. 504)

Herbert Leibowitz, "The Muse and the News," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1969 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXII, No. 3, Autumn, 1969, pp. 497-507.∗

Margaret Randall

[Judith Johnson Sherwin's Uranium Poems is] just a very bad book…. The book is cute, forced; maybe clever is the most that can be said. [It is clever in an] insulting way because it pretends to treat subjects that should be touched with all the clarity and straightness and openness at one's disposal. Sherwin applies a Dylanesque (Dylan Thomas, not Bob Dylan) language to atomic imagery and she ends up by not really saying anything further than What a bad bomb! Is the bomb bad because it could extinguish life on earth? Is it bad only because Russia has it? Because we have it? Does the threat of China's bomb inspire these poems? And what about the knowledge of the bomb; where does that knowledge fit into all...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Hayden Carruth

Judith Johnson Sherwin has in the past published a number of books that seem to me close to modish, but The Town Scold is different. The first part of a larger work to be entitled Waste, it is deeply feminist yet free of feminist clichés; it is the original hardship. Until we have all of Waste we can make no reliable judgment, but The Town Scold is a more than promising start. She writes of power and weakness, of sources and resources…. A strongly musical, absolutely lucid statement. (p. 88)

Hayden Carruth, "The Passionate Few," in Harper's (copyright © 1978 by Harper's Magazine; all rights reserved; reprinted from the June, 1978...

(The entire section is 117 words.)

Hayden Carruth

[Transparencies] is the second book of Judith Johnson Sherwin's sequence called Waste, calmer and more loving than the first book, The Town Scold. Chiefly it leads in the direction of married semi-bliss, with reservations along the way, and with more poems than I would prefer cast into cute typographical displays: semi-bliss and semi-concretism. But the total effect is what counts, and this is the language, which holds its own in one's final impression, eloquence and wit joined together naturally and spontaneously. Sherwin has her own lighthearted tragic view, not quite like any other I know. One feels like giving thanks in some special way to this sensibility hanging on so fragilely yet...

(The entire section is 132 words.)

Robert Demott

[How the Dead Count] is characterized by a catchy title and unusual formal and technical discontinuities. There is great energy in How the Dead Count, a sense of excitement founded in the pure process of creation, in the lively expressiveness of form, and in her verbal and grammatical pyrotechnics. But these elements are often achieved without concern for end results.

Sherwin's book is not the sort lovers of the closed lyric will find easy going. It undercuts many of our shared assumptions about the poet's office…. [In a book this long] the levelling effect of her post-modernist stance is deadening because it forces her to treat most experiences in virtually the same way. This...

(The entire section is 383 words.)