Weiss, Theodore (Vol. 14)
Weiss, Theodore 1916–
Weiss is an American poet, critic, and editor. In opposition to the current popularity of the loose confessional style of poetry, Weiss has primarily written long, carefully constructed narrative poems. He is most noted for his "Gunsight," a narrative poem described by some critics as the best long poem since William Carlos Williams's "Paterson." (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
[Weiss's long poems should alert us] to the narrowness of range of many of the short poems of our time. Weiss's own shorter poems (very few of them under thirty lines) have always presented an uncommon combination of dense texture and subtle, sometimes elusive, substance. The texture of these poems often turns out to be the substance, and the time-bound experience of reading his poems is, more than with most poets, the apprehension of a meaning which can rarely be ordered into structural, spatial schemas after it has impressed itself on the reader. The poems are of a supremely articulate emotional and perceptual progress.
Technically, Weiss's work began in The Catch as a manipulation of rhymes, strung like beads on the characteristically long thread of his sentence. His poems were occasions formalized less according to rule than in accord with the poet's ear, which hears echoes and half-rhymes nearly everywhere (punning is simply one instance of this). At times the reader had the sense of standing inside a carillon as the bells resounded with harmonics of each other's pitches…. But Weiss's range also extended to a less self-conscious sort of language, appropriate to more occasions, which offered the reader a music based on a kind of hovering metric never fully established…. (pp. 18-19)
Further, there was something of William Carlos Williams' casual artfulness and eye for the tableau…. [However, the...
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[Views & Spectacles] should serve to introduce new English readers to an urbane, spikily intelligent writer for whom the making of poetry is a delighted idiosyncratic conversation shaped around parentheses, hesitations and qualifications, breaking out at intervals into sheer affirmation. Often seeming a little awkward (even wilfully mannered) at first reading, these are poems which demand careful attention until their voice is assimilated and the necessary balance of mind achieved in one's response. Not that they are obscure but, both in their syntax and in a habit of shooting off at ruminative tangents from what appears to be a direct narrative line, they are surprising and often refreshingly unpredictable. A number of them begin, deceptively, as anecdotes but then the event dissolves into the larger questions it has raised or … is peremptorily dismissed….
[Despite] the ironic checks and balances which dictate the style and pace of his work, [Weiss is] a celebrator, a yes-sayer, a kind of upper-case e. e. cummings for whom every last is a first….
[Like William Carlos Williams], his work is that of a complex, restless optimist…. For Williams it was "no ideas but in things". For Professor Weiss it is "at once to see / nation, no poetry. The spectacles he asks for, in the selection's title poem, are "a pair … apt / to spot at least two times / at once … or at least dismiss / the blur and tenses...
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Theodore Weiss' poetry is among the most demanding (which is not necessarily to say obscure) currently being written, not because it is erudite, far-ranging, uncompromising, and oblique, as it certainly is, but by virtue of the poet's modus operandi of reconciling fragments through the fashioning of multi-faceted wholes. His rich thematic diversity, various but specific characterization (for his work abounds in real people), and accelerated interplay between objects and notions, all combine to keep the reader in an intensely mobile state, as befits a poetry of the "demeanors of the mind."
Although I propose to indicate a number of Weiss' recurrent motifs, one, fragmentation, must be mentioned at once; for much of his poetic method, as well as his obliquity, stems from this theme. More than a theme, it is the underlying structure, the form and sign, by which passion may be brought to equal hope. (pp. 1-2)
Ideal phenomenalism, in its zeal to reduce material to patterns made up of sensa and the gaps between, has left the physical world in fragments…. The problem faced by Weiss, and perhaps faced more critically by him than by any other of our contemporary American poets, is: how to reconstruct a world in shambles in such a way as to fill in the gaps in sense patterns, so that pterodactyls and antarctic rock, never seen by man, may nevertheless exist? What is the continuant that constitutes the world whole?...
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