Turner Cassity Essay - Cassity, (Allen) Turner

Cassity, (Allen) Turner

Cassity, (Allen) Turner 1929–

An American poet and professional librarian, Cassity writes, he says, "colonial pastorals." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)

Good workmen do not quarrel with their tools—it smacks of ungratefulness, and leaves a bad impression, on the work and everybody nearby. So when you read Turner Cassity, you read on, because his poems keep good company…. [His] sparse and precise talk is so unusual in contemporary verse that one could take it as a model for easy relations between poet and audience. Cassity is a limited poet, but he recognizes, perfectly what his words and lines can do, and he performs candidly within his range. The result is a clarity of speech truly remarkable, a measured language…. This good behavior toward his language establishes the formalities of what Cassity calls "being terse". Being so, one acquires certain virtues, as, for example, the habit of plain and direct speaking, and a forbiddingly elegant address. Cassity lives on that shore "Where one calls the vicious, curtly, vicious,/And the scheduled ferry, not the cruise ship, precious."

Such conviction and certainty of tone is the sign of a very straight poetic mind. As a poet, Cassity is neither particularly wise nor noticeably opinionated. But he is clear-sighted and insists upon seeing his subjects—upon showing them—as sharply as possible. Much of Steeplejacks in Babel in fact deals with very ambiguous subjects, with Dubieties, as the title of one of the poems has it. They are often conventional subjects with clouded reputations: Eva Peron, Judas, Cardinal Pacelli (before his elevation), South American Nazi refugees, Huey Long. Matching these is his other great subject, the reader himself, whose reputation Cassity takes to be equally suspect. Characteristically, the poems go on to force the reader to confront famous people or events, and in the encounter to see them, and himself, a little better. (pp. 44-5)

Like Alexander Pope, Cassity is a worldly poet. He is morally preoccupied, he is social, he likes to follow the discourse of men and women, and to study their behavior. (p. 45)

Jerome J. McGann, in Poetry (© 1974 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), October, 1974.

Cassity creates something like a classical rhetorical world, where figures of speech, formulae and patterns, not only dominate but are the poetry. He has an engineer's sense of how pressure and stress produce strength, forcing understatement to new levels of taciturnity and terseness. And indeed, engineered objects are among his favorite subjects. (pp. 195-96)

Cassity's goal is forever to seek new kinds of economy, to discover the tensile strength of grammar and phrasing; he has both the grammarian's and the engineer's sense of careful construction. (p. 196)

Our sense of the well said is whetted by the poems; Cassity uses form to discover in speech the possibilities of clear statement. (p. 197)

Richard Johnson, in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © by Parnassus: Poetry in Review), Fall/Winter, 1974.