Michael Mott Essay - Critical Essays

Mott, Michael


Mott, Michael 1930–

Mott is an English poet, novelist, essayist, editor, and children's author now residing in the United States. His experience as a poet lends a certain elegance to his prose, which also reveals an eye for vivid detail in description. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Malcolm Bradbury

There's a slightly dated air … to Helmets and Wasps; it is set during the last war, and the mode of presentation, that of a personal diary of self-revelation, isn't unfamiliar. Don't be put off; it's most superbly done, rather in the manner of Thomas Mann—a study of a moral crisis deriving from a situation in which a cultured man meets another style of culture, another view of life, which tempts and threatens him…. His complex character—love of culture and of order, desire to dominate and desire to yield—encounters the good life which corrupts order and discipline. This ancient opposition is explored with great subtlety, the German and Italian background marvellously handled. It's an admirable novel.

Malcolm Bradbury, "Books: 'Helmets and Wasps'," in Punch (© 1965 by Punch Publications Ltd.; all rights reserved; may not be reprinted without permission), Vol. CCXLVIII, No. 6487, January 6, 1965, p. 32.

Edward M. Potoker

British poet Michael Mott showed considerable ability in his first novel, "The Notebooks of Susan Berry."… "Helmet and Wasps," his second novel, is a book of greater distinction. This time, he has integrated his poetic gifts with a fine command of the novelist's technical skills, to create a serious study in which a complex central character is remolded with extraordinary precision….

Mott's novel, reaching its climaxes with the quiet power and slow measured pace of an Antonioni movie, transmutes by no means original subject matter into first-class fiction through sheer craftsmanship.

Edward M. Potoker, "Of War and Warriors," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1966 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 20, 1966, p. 30.

Guy Davenport

Helmet and Wasps is the second novel of Michael Mott, a young English writer of considerable talent. He has written an old-fashioned novel that is deceptively quiet of tone. We are allowed to read the notebooks of a Wehrmacht officer who … has been given an insignificant post in Italy…. Slowly small problems creep in from the outside, mere distractions in the routine, until, with great skill, Mr. Mott gathers up these carefully dropped clues, develops them at breath-taking acceleration, and creates a climax of extraordinary violence. To have guessed in such detail the problems of a German officer at the edge of the war is no small feat, and to have made believable the psychology of his brusque, Teutonic notes required mature skill. (p. 279)

Guy Davenport, "A Round of the Same," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1966; 150 East 35th St., New York, NY 10016), Vol. XVIII, No. 12, March 22, 1966, pp. 278-79.

Herbert Mitgang

When a first-person journal is offered to the reader as fiction, it is natural to wonder about the author's background…. Inquiry discloses that the author [of Helmets and Wasps] is an Anglo-American too young to have seen the wartime he writes about. Thus, projecting himself inside the mind of a Wehrmacht hardy is a double burden and, as it turns out at the end of this short novel, an impossible one.

Yes, there have been novels written by nonparticipants who have come to major events, military and otherwise, long years later. But it takes something akin to genius to write a Red Badge of Courage. And even in those empathic historical novels about ancient warriors, it has been necessary to establish a link between author and a fictional character's thought processes….

Although [Michael Mott] has written Helmet and Wasps with a certain elegance, the reader cannot help feeling that the writing is a substitute for interior development. But then Mr. Mott gave himself an almost impossible fiction assignment to begin with.

Herbert Mitgang, "Wehrmacht Hardy with Heart," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1966 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 49, No. 27, July 2, 1966, p. 34.

Tess Sullivan-Daly

Michael Mott's commentary on the human experience is brief and precise in [Absence of Unicorns, Presence of Lions]…. Book I, "The Letters," is a pastiche of the myths and mumbojumbo society devises to regulate its members…. Book II, "The Unpeaceable Kingdom," depicts man exercising his intuitions and his instincts in order to cope with the confusions imposed upon him both by his existence and by his institutions….

The message of the total work is optimistic in the world of his realities where society can be mindfully cruel and nature arbitrarily uncompromising man—so much better than the angels who have only reason, whereas he has also emotion and instinct—imagines and so survives.

Throughout these poems, rhythms reinforce meanings. Language is always controlled, allowing for no obscureness or ambiguity. Images are an exciting and pleasing combination of vigor and delicacy. Mott's poems testify to his sensitivity as a person and his talent as a poet.

Tess Sullivan-Daly, "For All Lovers of Poetry," in Worcester Sunday Telegram (copyright © 1976 Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Inc.), March 7, 1976, p. 8E.

David Bromwich

Part I of [Absence of Unicorns] is about the unicorns, has a mythical cast of characters, supplies, inter alia, an Adam's-alphabet for stones, animals, etc., and seems altogether a diverting if slightly thin-flavored Poundian-Olsonesque-eclectic-mythic-Kabbalistic-Limpopo River Soup. Part II, selected episodes in American history, is more vivid though quite as careless in the writing: about the Civil War Mr. Mott speaks with real feeling. His book strikes me as amiable, overall, and intent on itself in the right way. But it wants something of the concentration of genuine poetry, and, considered as a unified long poem, which is what it tries to be, it is poorly or at least not very thoroughly...

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Vernon Young

The intercutting of historically distant people and events [appears] in the poems of Michael Mott; fighters of the American Civil War shade into warriors from the Iliad or from the Old Testament; Achilles cries out from a trench at "Gaines Mill," Sherman consorts with Saul…. Richard Eberhart (quoted on jacket) deduces, magnanimously, that Part I of this volume is "from the head" and Part II "from the heart." That poets write so divisibly with an either/or inspiration I doubt…. I should suppose that diverse subjects entail diverse means and I find it reckless to assume that a Britisher should write from the heart about the War Between the States and from the head about Merlin, Tristan, apples, and people...

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Paul Ramsey

Michael Mott's Absence of Unicorns, Presence of Lions is presented in two parts. The second part features a long-line rushing free verse. If at times overgalloping and undifferentiating, it can hold an entire event swiftly to memory, as in the tender "Above Dalton." The first part, "The Letters," largely in short-line free verse supported by grammatical parallelings and envelopings more common to long-line free verse, is lyrically adazzle. It dances repetitions, laces soundings, reflects incantation, building up a world … from underward, anew. (p. 536)

Paul Ramsey, "Faith and Form: Some American Poetry of 1976," in The Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of...

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Michael G. Cooke

Absence of Unicorns, Presence of Lions takes as its epigraph the proposition of The Sefer Yetshirah that "through [LETTERS]" God "produced the whole creation and everything that is destined to be created," and the volume deals heavily in Letters and Myths and Namings even where, as in "Gaines Mill," the subject matter would seem more immediate and, so to speak, unlettered…. If his "lore" is to be more than masonic or, more accurately, cabalistic, what does Mott do to renew, confirm, extend his material, to justify our reading him as well as his source?

When he is working on it, in a poem like "Myths I," little or nothing leaps to view. At best he provokes the reader to recall...

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