Ants on the Melon

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Virginia Hamilton Adair’s first published collection of poetry has emerged when the author, at age eighty-three and blind, succumbed to the urgings of her longtime friend, poet Robert Mezey, and consented to a winnowing of a lifetime of poetry writing, arranged the poems in six sections. The first section, “Ants on the Melon,” while in no way “sentimental” (Adair is far too strong a thinker to fall into that mode) is, as is the entire volume, full of sentiment. (Adair has far too strong a heart to eschew feeling, passion, pain.)

Partly because of Adair’s having lived a long and intense life, and partly because of her strong sense of craft and the requirements of form, individual poems and the volume as a whole always reveal the shadow as well as the sunlight, the frost as well as the warmth, usually in the last three or four lines of the poem. One finds the incredible pain, passion, and bafflement that is our lot as human beings rendered with a powerful command of form—rhyme, meter, stanza—of language, image, and metaphor, a bulwark to the unbearable. The final section, “Make Light of Darkness,” celebrates the gifts of memory, of poetry, of friends, and certainly of courage as she continues a lifelong daily habit writing poems on an old Olympic portable, making sense out of all of life’s character, nothing denied except, remarkably, self-pity.

In this exquisite volume, one finds then a superior craftsperson, keen in her sense of words and sounds and structures, powerful in her control of form, as she listens to a whispering of the soul, a sound, as she puts it in the last two lines of “Strange Frequency”: that even we Gods find strange,/ Like a tear distilled from the deep eternal cold.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCII, April 15, 1996, p. 1410.

Houston Chronicle. June 9, 1996, p. Z10.

The Kenyon Review. XVIII, Summer, 1996, p. 186.

Library Journal. CXXI, April 1, 1996, p. 83.

Los Angeles Times. March 29, 1996, p. E1.

The New York Review of Books. XLIII, May 23, 1996, p. 4.

The New York Times. August 7, 1996, p. C11.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, June 23, 1996, p. 9.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, February 26, 1996, p. 103.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. July 14, 1996, p. C5.

Time. CXLVII, May 27, 1996, p. 80.