Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

In NOTES FROM A BOTTLE FOUND ON THE BEACH AT CARMEL, Evan S. Connell, Jr., has boldly and simply accomplished what was only recently called the impossible. He has written a long, complex, subtle, book-length modern poem which is at once readable and worthy of admission into the small group of major poems written in our time. Known as a gifted short story writer and novelist, Connell’s interest in poetry and, more important, his ease and ability in handling complex verse forms and conventions, were virtually unknown until a version of this poem appeared in CONTACT. That initial appearance and the publication of the full poem in book form should have startled the small, tight little world of poets writing today, but the book has largely been ignored in the world of poetry because it jars safe assumptions and rattles skeletons in closets. Although it came upon the scene unannounced, like a poor relation, it has found an audience.

The basic fable of the poem is clearly established in the title. It is, indeed, a work in the form of notes, snippets and fragments written by an archetypal seafarer and addressed to whom it may concern. He, the narrator, is at once all voyagers, all sailors and, as well, the author himself. The poem ranges wide and free among cultures and traditions, in time and space; and in the modern fashion established by Eliot and Pound its method is chiefly allusive. If this poem were to be indexed and footnoted, it would surely equal the CANTOS in its multiplicity of reference; yet Connell’s allusions are not so much personal as representative of the fiber of our modern intellectual culture. Thus the work is accessible to the intelligent, educated reader. It should also be noted that the book bears a definite relationship to the work of James Joyce. Like FINNEGANS WAKE, it is a nightmare of all human history, all recorded time being, as in a dream, simultaneous, equally valid, and dramatic. Yet, somehow, Connell has managed to create a dream which is more universally the troubled...

(The entire section is 835 words.)