Arthur Gregor Critical Essays

Gregor, Arthur

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gregor, Arthur 1923–

An Austrian-born American children's writer, editor, and poet, Gregor is primarily known as a mystical, introspective poet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Like other peoples who have lived in times of general calamity, we have become accustomed to the kind of mysticism that proclaims itself in raucous and unintelligible, not to say psychedelic, terms. It is a well-recognized aspect of social deterioration. Consequently we are refreshed to find a mystical poet who still speaks to us about his experience with the assurance of candor and simplicity:

              I see a firing squad.
              you, a young sailor
              tied at your wrists.
              Churchbells are raging as if
              all of the wind of the sea
              had swept into steeples.
              I see an entire city kneeling,
              a girl throwing open a window
              tossing you a rose.
              The bullets, and you are swaying
              as though tied to a mast
              at sea in the wildest storm….

In such terms Arthur Gregor invokes the Immanence behind the world's facade—the Prince, the Stranger, "you who opened the glass door." And in equally simple figures—trees, city streets, a concert hall—he praises the moments of his spiritual vision. Rare moments: and the poems do not always succeed, for what he is trying to write is the most difficult of all kinds of poetry. But his successes are moving and genuine.

Partly, Gregor's maturity is that of any poet who has written for twenty years, and who derives from the great tradition of the purposive imagination, roughly definable in reference to such poets as Stevens, Éluard, Gottfried Benn. For Gregor, metaphor remains all of poetry; psychedelic theory to the contrary notwithstanding, no direct re-creation of mystical intuition is possible. Hence most of his failures are poems in which he succumbs to the risk of metaphor and crosses over entirely into symbolism, the manipulation of "objective correlatives," while his successes are poems in which he lets his objects speak for themselves. Or perhaps we should say, more accurately, that his successes come from the times when his dream, his vision, has presented itself in sufficiently concrete terms. Given the abstractness of the human mind, such occasions are bound to be rare.

Partly, however, Gregor's maturity, which is also his modernity, is a question of his particular mystical point of view. Speaking bluntly, far more bluntly than the poet himself would condone, if a God exists He must be a sorrowful God, not merely because He is aware of the pain of the world but because He is an expression of it. His root is in our suffering. Paradoxically, only in the bliss of heaven could a thoroughgoing atheistic materialist sustain himself. This Gregor knows, and he writes, in a poem addressing his own consciousness as it first moves toward transcendent awareness:

               What you must know before
               you enter this domain
               and learn the ways of which
               we shall not speak is this
               first truth of what you are:
               a sorrow, a sorrow
               begging for home. Or you
               would not have come so far.

Of course most of us—95 per cent, I imagine—cannot live in Gregor's world. Not that we are materialists in the old sense; but in spite of calamity we remain secularists and existentialists, believing that the meaning of reality lies, not behind a veil of objective chaos, but within our own breasts. Yet having said this we must add two further points.

First, we are exactly the ones who are the most faithful readers of poets like Gregor. For one thing, we are always seeking an outlet—an acceptable outlet—for our own unquestionable religious feelings; and for another, in our determined reasonableness we cannot choose to deny ourselves the advantage—the emotional service, so to speak—of mystical beauty. Hence we are the best, most persistent readers of Yeats, for instance, although we are easily annoyed by the vulgar elements of his occultism. In Gregor we have a lesser poet; but we also have one who abstains from the crudities of the Rosy Cross in favor of a base in the broad and pristine, but no less knowledgeable, tradition of overt neo-Platonism.

Second, we cannot fail to be impressed by the staying power, not only of this tradition but of the individual poets within it. In contrast to the sensualists and eroticists and naturalists, they age beautifully, vigorous to the end. Whereas the sensualist's insight merely closes in on him, inevitably, leaving him with only bombast as his senses wane but his artistic technique matures, the Platonist's insight is, in Gregor's words, "without horizons," i.e., unpredictable and expansible; its source is everywhere. In twenty years Gregor has produced only three small books. But very probably he is just now hitting his stride, beginning to find the means to accommodate any experience to the particular demands of his vision. What will his progress be? Through the next twenty years, at all events, many of us will watch it with special interest. (pp. 473-74)

Hayden Carruth, "Mystical Candor," in The Nation (copyright 1967 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), November 6, 1967, pp. 473-74.

Arthur Gregor is surely one of the most deeply spiritual poets of our time. The development of his art can be viewed as the cultivation of a purely transparent medium in which language becomes a vehicle for transmitting moments of luminous being. To many readers, his poems may appear to be moving toward a total absence of style, the condition of stylelessness. Yet he is an experimental stylist in the truest sense. In Gregor's work, we find the nearest approach in American poetry to what Susan Sontag has identified as "spiritual style" in the films of Robert Bresson. To a generation of readers accustomed to a garish obtrusiveness of style, Gregor's style is apt to seem invisible. Simply to compare Gregor's style with the bland, featureless style of most poetry in translation, poetry without any face, is to be struck with the distinctive serene beauty and simplicity—the austereness—of his lines…. A special quality of Arthur Gregor's writing is his power to hold a long sentence in breathless suspension over many lines, lines which instill the feeling of softness, gentleness, lightness. In Gregor's medium, tone must be perfectly pitched and mood everywhere sustained, since any slip in rhythm or phrasing will be accentuated by the stark crystallinity of his line movement, and may be picked up instantly by the careful reader.

Gregor's fervent preoccupation with images of subtle and delicate movements in nature is indicative of a search for living correlatives to the stillness-in-motion he aspires to in the refinement of his poetic line:

           Silence shivers as if touched by sounds
           subtle as the air that holds
           the heron's spread blue wing …

Gregor has evolved a poetic manner that serves as a frictionless conveyor for his thought. Ideas in the poems are as inseparable from the style of their expression as wave from water, wind from air. Because Gregor's work is more a poetry of ideas than we are accustomed to reading today, it is easy enough to make the mistake of dismissing him as merely a philosopher-in-verse. But these poems are not doctrinaire; rather, they employ ideas as one of many elements in the service of projecting an inner luminosity of being. Philosophy is subordinate to the stream of intensely devotional feeling running through most of the poems.

In a few pieces, ideas do dominate the poetry. Similar motifs may be employed repeatedly, and the weaker poems fail to give any new life to the theme. Philosophy must be lifted above a minimal threshold of linguistic and imagistic adventurousness to become poetry, and some poems lag much below that minimum. Another of the difficulties in Gregor's art is the tendency to sameness in line length and line movement. He evidently has a nearly irresistible affinity for shorter lines, perhaps because they nearly always so aptly facilitate the free flow of his mind.

But in his longest and best poem … [in Figure in the Door] ("The Unworldliness that He Creates")—he achieves an altogether new line movement: supple, pulsing, taut or slack by turns, long or short, adaptable to multiple rhythms. The new mode intersperses prose passages in a matrix of expanding sentences of poetry, sentences that employ a Whitmanesque paralleling of clauses is sequence to encircle a larger and wider landscape of vision. The one constant in the poem—which marks a perfect arrival and fulfillment of many of the central motifs in the book's philosophy—is the movement from beauties of art, nature, urban scene, into the space in the persona's being in which all "things he looks upon achieve themselves."

Gregor's power to envision for the reader the quality of spiritual beauty in strangers, "foreigners," is an ideological mainstay of many of his poems. He seems to be proposing a theory of personality which gives a new validity to the romantic axiom of love-at-first-sight by annexing it to its antithesis of classical restraint:

          On your way home you stopped to shop,
          looked around as you were going in,
          and recognized yourself in me
          some steps away. Then you went in
          and I went on. Of course the outcome
          could have been otherwise, but not
          what had already taken place.
          That we had seen each other in
          each other's face without disguise,
          had beheld what is not yours nor mine:
          a nameless recognition we might not
          have reached, had our shyness and
          each other's namelessness been breached.

Again and again, Gregor dwells on the kinds of recognition—the radiances—that are possible only between strangers, the momentous flash in the eyes of "the figure in the door." The sensibility in the poems is one that has learned to guard against the damages—the subtle losses—that result from frail intimacies. The fashionable glamor that attends all forms of personal involvement today leads to serious, though nearly imperceptible, injuries to the self. Gregor revives the power in us to respond to beauties in people that transcend their worldly personalities. This impersonal—or transpersonal—beauty is, for Gregor, the supreme reality. (pp. 606-08)

Laurence Lieberman, in The Yale Review (© 1968 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Summer, 1968.

Basic Movements by Arthur Gregor is a book of nerveless, unemphasized poems, both delicate and sure…. They suggest a competence not overtly demonstrated…. Gregor is a contemplative poet, and again, "things" are dissolved and merged in the poems. I find them too rarified to evoke any fullblooded response in me—Shelley without the blaze and ethereal wings. One minor defect is the tendency to archaisms—"Unto," "forth," "therin," giving a suggestion of falsity that belies the poems. In key and mood this book resembled Kenneth O. Hanson's The Distance Anywhere. These are poems of a man puzzled but not confounded. The Greece poems are refreshingly different from Lawrence Durrell's, breezy but never enchanted. They are place poems and travel poems by one who never leaves himself behind, as if he looked through the wrong end of a telescope. (p. 869)

Jack Bevan, in The Southern Review (copyright, 1970, by Jack Bevan), Vol. 6, No. 3, Summer, 1970.

Few writers have sustained such purity of intention combined with virtuosity of form, or have grown in craftsmanship as has [Arthur Gregor] without losing—to borrow the title of one of his finest and most ambitious poems—"the unworldliness that he creates." Yet, why should such a steadfastness through all the changes of fashion in poetry be a reason for praise? Does that not somehow show an impoverishment of the imagination, or perhaps a failure to deal with experience? Have we not come to expect the romantic in his forties to have gone sour, to have hardened himself against the sudden approach of the beautiful, to cherish irony of vision more than purity and simplicity of tone? Not so Arthur Gregor. In the long, meditative, deeply personal poem "Horizons West" with which he concludes [Selected Poems], he reflects, in a wilderness solitude, on his early errors of commission and omission, on the persons who helped to shape his life—parents, friends, his brother, women:

            The women
            whose care and laughter pursued me,
            whose fear of what I strove to
            experience, whose insistence on
            demanding from me what I
            did not want, made me escape them.
                                       (p. 230)

From the beginning, in the poems written while he was in his early twenties and published in his first collection Octavian Shooting Targets (1954), Gregor has demonstrated a brilliant virtuosity of diction, a sure mastery of the most subtle verbal music…. The daring shifts of syntax and atmosphere, the bravura technique which dazzlingly compresses ancient and contemporary decadence into a powerful montage, make such poems as "Ritual" and the book's title poem as fresh and exciting today as when they were first published. In these first works Gregor sounded the themes that would continue through the entire body of his work: exile and wandering, the loss of beloved persons and places, life in Vienna before Hitler, the second World War and the new Diaspora. There was a cultivation, too, of conventionally romantic images: swans, places, fountains, the sea, mandolins, and legendary gardens, "princes who have missed their cue, who have no other chance and have no other chance." Mediterranean elements, Oriental strains, and the effect on his work of the poets he has most admired—Eliot, Rilke, Wallace Stevens—were also in evidence.

Three years later, Gregor published Declensions of a Refrain, a small and beautifully-made volume in which these early themes were struck again: travel (Venice at night, and Siena); the persistence of the sensual in music; gardens, birds, and boats arriving and departing. At the same time there was much less pyrotechnic display, the poet was less likely to establish himself in the rooms of the palace than in the quieter corridors of his mind. The title poem shows him working—to use a musical analogue—in a sonata form. Of the longer poems and variations, this poem is surely his most successful. Beginning with a quiet statement—"More or less is a relative gesture / as in gain or loss," it fuses dream and personal recollection with Gregor's continuing sense of the presence of history, as he invokes the ineffability of human greatness, our defiance of states and kingdoms and princes; and always there is the journey, this time

         from dream to dream
         to a first calm that overcame me
         in that distant harbor, the sun
         at dawn more enormous and barbarous
         than when it set in the Arabian sea.

As the poem drives forcefully toward its resolution of what the poet has heard in Bach and seen in Cézanne: the mystery hidden deep within the human spirit, in "caves that rest in them / and stir like a burning marvel."

At this point in his career, Gregor had gone beyond his early facility, beyond his technical mastery of what might be regarded as the mathematics of poetry, the lines and stanzas as perfectly balanced as equations, to achieve an apparently effortless synthesis of the meditative and lyrical strains of his talent. Basic Movements (1966) continued the synthesis, confirmed the simplicity and directness of Gregor's diction (adjectives are always used sparingly in his work, and he resists the temptation to overload his syntax, writing, as a consequence, some of the purest and loveliest lines in contemporary poetry), while deepening the resonance of his music…. In certain poems, he reaches the almost wholly intangible, tantalizing indefinable quality of meaning, as in "Twenty or So," where he seeks to recapture the nature of a look which meant more to him than experience itself, was experience itself. The epigraph for the volume—"In the world, not of it"—defined both his estimate of his own situation and his ambition for his art. (pp. 230-32)

Much has been said of Gregor's resemblances to Rilke and Hofmannsthal, and of certain affinities in his work to Constantin Cavafy, of whom he has spoken admiringly. It is true that he has combined elements of the European tradition with an American sensibility, but by the time A Bed by the Sea was published last year, he had found such serenity in his point of view, such complete control of his skills, that any conflicts between his heritage and the discords of contemporary American life have been completely resolved in the unity and purity of his work. He writes now without the masks and elaborate defenses of the more vulnerable artist he was in his youth. He writes with a clarity and transparency which leaves no place for either self-deception or self-conscious artifice…. (p. 232)

One has only to read "The Statue," an indisputably great poem, to understand Gregor's triumphant acceptance of himself as both man and poet, or "The Release" to realize the maturity and profound dignity with which he confronts suffering in himself and in humanity. In these last poems, even his sense of playfulness has been liberated. Though he has always had a finely-balanced sense of humor in his personal relationships, humor has seldom figured in his poetry. Now, in "Variations," he plays ruefully with his own romantic imagery:

               Everything alive is sensitive.
               If not a phoenix, a dove,
               (all right, a pigeon) lifts from
               the fire of autumn leaves.

The acceptance is most simply expressed in "Words of a Pilgrim":

             Nothing matters to me but
             inner accord.
             Come, beasts,
             I'll face you if I must.
             I'll walk through the dark with
             the unfulfilled, the lost.
             Let their terror be my cry.
             What is hidden
             shall come forth.
             Light insists
             nothing shall be missed.            (p. 233)

Robert A. Carter, "Pilgrimage of the Imagination," in Modern Poetry Studies (copyright 1971, by Jerome Mazzaro), Vol. 2, No. 5, 1971, pp. 230-33.

Arthur Gregor's [A Bed by the Sea] will reward a careful reading; those who prefer Grieg to Vivaldi and Renoir to Dürer will like it. The landscape of the poems seems one in which pastel-shaded forms out of Fragonard blend slowly to the heart-wounding sobs of long-winded violins: a mixture of rococo and early symbolism. You can be sure that Irving Babbitt, for one, would not have liked it at all, and it is hard to see how anyone (who is unwilling to surrender himself to this sort of mood music) could be taken with such a poem as "Worldliness"—

          Worldliness is your enemy.
          Never think otherwise.
          It does not tolerate for long
          love that you love.
          From where springs the pure lament
          played on ancient instruments?
          To what is a sob a response?
          Trumpets lift our spirits up. To where?
          The world is entangled with
          continued decay and death.
          It courts but abhors
          the opposite it needs.
          Entrapped in its laws
          it ravages love,
          hacks at truth,
          weeping, weeping it must do
          what is incumbent upon it to do!
          How moving to think
          that from time to time
          a white horse does come
          bringing a beautiful
          redeemer in human form.

The conclusion to that poem, in addition to the discomfort to the aesthetic sense that it achieves by reviving one of the deadest clichés of romance, outrages simple common sense…. [It] seems a small request to ask to be spared poems containing beautiful redeemers in human forms on white horses. I do not think that what I have said represents a willful and cruel misreading of the poem; I am even more repelled by the "aesthetic" response to human suffering that one finds in other poems in this volume, in "The Release", for example: "the feeling that / deep sorrow resides / in everything I look at / makes me more alive"; "Only in the midst of / pure suffering / will I release my cry!" I am not quoting out of context; the poem makes it clear that he is writing about the suffering of other people: "What moment moves us more / than when we realize / another's sorrow as our own?" I am not objecting to sympathy and compassion; I merely mean that I am appalled that Gregor should suppose that the suffering of other people constitutes the best condition for the composition of poetry; reducing this line of thinking to the absurd is not difficult: one only has to imagine a poet who was unable to compose, whose aesthetic sense slumbered, until he was urged into song by the spectacle at My Lai, and thereupon found himself able to produce things of beauty that were joys forever. It's like the men who ran the concentration camps and then went home to read Rilke (as Auden tells us). I do not truly believe that Gregor goes very far in this direction, and I hope that these remarks do not make anyone who is fond of his poetry ill.

The book as a whole appears to be a record of a kind of voyage of the soul—which coincides with a good deal of actual travel. In the course of his meditations, Gregor seems to be considering the question of where to live, in the mind as well as in the world, and he entertains alternatives which are all escapes of one kind or another: into an old-fashioned romantic tour d'ivoire; or into a life of (refined) sensations rather than thoughts, with which Keats was briefly enamored; or into some museum of the heart or intelligence. Many lines suggest the idea of escape, or perhaps of withdrawal: "Abroad again, adrift on foreign shores"; "Intentionally or not, I have courted loneliness"; "That on waking / you depart from / your true home / that the world / is not for you"; "Worldliness is your enemy"; and, in the opening lines of the book, "I must surround myself with / intangibles again." Travel poems are, of course, perfect vehicles for such meditations. Much of the charm of travel is its endless superficiality, the emotional relief of knowing nothing whatever of the lives of the persons one encounters. Gregor, though, does garner something more useful than mere hedonistic rambling would produce. In the conclusion to the poem "At-Homeness in the Self", he writes—

          In view of the recognition
          that repeated travel brings—
          that experience is a transparent fabric
          thin and scattered by a wind—
          love alone is valid,
          love the only link.
          Death renders numb all concepts.
          Swallows, the Italians call rondini,
          continue a perpetual round
          when heavy bells are tolled.
          In time each drops to earth,
          but swallows do not change.
          The dance continues.
          The self remains throughout.
                                   (pp. 488-90)

H. T. Kirby-Smith, Jr., in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor, © 1972 by The University of the South), Summer, 1972.

Arthur Gregor came to this country from Vienna when he was fifteen, and in certain respects his writing bears the mark of his origin. His normal method is to spread out a series of images and allusions, often rooted in European culture, and let the meaning arise from the resulting impression, assisted by commentary. This means that Gregor has no use for conciseness or the kind of meter that would allow him to put every syllable in its place; his verse is loose and soft because he wants it that way. (p. 494)

His associative, impressionistic manner … leads him to subjects that are inherently vague, such as fog, shadows, clouds, haze, or dreams, which recur again and again. There are emotionally convincing poems about sterility and artifice, among other things; and it is true, as most of the quotations on the dust-jacket affirm, that Gregor is interested in spiritual matters; but I have trouble finding distinguished individual poems in this collection [Selected Poems]. To imagine The Faerie Queene without its meter, allegory, or plot would give some notion of Gregor's book as a whole; the interest is pictorial and thematic, not verbal. Nearly every line is aurally commonplace; the rhythms are prosaic, there is not much rationale to the line breaks, and little of interest happens among the words themselves…. [The] tone throughout the book is homogeneous, like a long, muted reverie. This kind of writing, to which cliché and even melodrama are endemic, would probably become much sharper if recast as prose; though the short poem makes hardly any formal demands at present, it does tend to encourage self-indulgence. To those who prefer dense texture in poetry, Gregor's work will seem very loose-woven indeed. (p. 495)

Raymond Oliver, in The Southern Review (copyright, 1973, by Raymond Oliver), Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring, 1973.

One finishes reading [The Past Now: New Poems] with a heavy heart. In Gregor's earlier work the temporal world was always capable of offering illumination…. But in the course of this new book the temporal world loses its brightness: expectation and hope "have left me" and are replaced by "a look of loss / as people, cars stream by / and the appointed hour / has long been passed." Gregor is famous for his expression of the tension in man created by the opposing lures of the postlapsarian world and the absolute world of Otherness. Near the close of The Past Now, however, that tension gives way to a diminishing interest in the former world: "Hushed sounds on the stair, / the careful closing of a door / do not concern me now." At the end, "light across the lake withdraws."

The theme of loss is equally prominent at the start of the volume but there its treatment is significantly different from its subsequent employment: "Only by feeling close to that / which we can never reach / but lasts are we / enlarged and comforted." For Gregor the essential man is not homo ludens or homo faber but homo desiderans, man the desirer…. [Deprivation] is an opportunity for the deepest communion with the self. Similarly, suffering is the way of renewal: "wounds can open up, / the scream erupt like a birth." The paradoxes here—vain pursuit is in truth fulfillment, wounds are transformed into fruitful wombs—echo the familiar paradoxes of religious precepts (give and ye shall receive) and theology (Christ's "defeat" on the cross as redemptive triumph). By the end of the book such conversions of death into life, of absence into presence, seem less probable, less possible. "Yearning guided me, / now it is gone." In Gregor's terms, that means an entire self is gone.

All of this is not to say, however, that The Past Now, because of its course, disappoints; on the contrary, it is a gripping, dramatic record of a man living between the two outposts of hope and despair…. Gregor's work is the unimpugnable testimony of a pilgrim. It transcends "mere" literature, recalling Ford Madox Ford's dictum that "the last thing literature should be is literary." (But after purgatory, what paradiso? Bodilessness, a number of poems suggest. Allen Tate's concept of "the angelic fallacy" seems useful for an exploration of this book.)

These poems can perhaps be read singly but they gain considerably from each other, like chapters of a narrative (thus poem titles have not been cited here). The story the poems cooperate to tell is ultimately that of a man divided between the heroic attempt to complete the circle (i.e., repair the terrible rupture represented by the expulsion from Eden) and the conviction that he is fulfilling his fate most when he is not completing the circle but only striving, in passage, to do so. By the end of the story, not only has the heroic attempt failed but that conviction, which could sustain him in hard times, has weakened. A tone of weariness and finality becomes dominant. One trusts that the finality is more apparent than real and that the title of the book is prophetic, that the harmony of the past will somehow manifest itself to the pilgrim in the present moment, accessible and now. May the manifestation be in the form of more poems like these.

Highly recommended. A book of purity, integrity, and distinction. (pp. 365-66)

Philip Dacey, "Outside the Garden," in Prairie Schooner (© 1976 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Winter, 1975–76, pp. 365-66.

The poetry of Arthur Gregor could scarcely differ more from that of Howard Moss, in temperament, in tone, in the stuff of which it is made. And yet … Gregor and Moss have in common certain characteristics which help to account for the stature of their poetry. They are two of the best poets we have, in a period in which the writing of poetry has become an epidemic. The qualities they share are a highly disciplined intelligence, the sense that a poem is not a happy—or unhappy—accident, and a concern with those buried human relationships so sparsely evident on the surface upon which we maneuver our lives. In the welter of guess-what-happened-to-me-last-night verse, their poetry speaks only to someone willing to listen. (p. 346)

"Spiritual" is a word so bedraggled by abuse as to be suspect; but to apply it to Gregor's poetry is to restore its strictest usage.

In Octavian Shooting Targets, published more than twenty years ago, history, roots and memory are the book's essence. The tone, since then, has become increasingly clear and rich, but it is still true that no poem is severed from roots which go deep into the human past. The consciousness of the European heritage is still strong, but now the sources of heritage are discovered in a wider and deeper field than can be represented by any limited provenance.

Poetry such as this is a threatened species. Reading Gregor, we become conscious of what its even temporary loss would mean. The book's title [The Past Now] is accurate. In Gregor's work, the past is never the past; it is alive in every aspect of the poem. The danger for poetry which has a strong spiritual force at its center is that the poems may become remote from the immediate and tangible. Gregor's most impressive accomplishment is his ability to make the spiritual intensely apprehended by the senses.

In this poetry, the inherent image is that of the pilgrim; his memories, the exhilarating or harrowing aspects of his journey, and the constant presence of his expectation—all are packed into the poem's texture. (pp. 346-47)

Gregor's is such uncautious poetry that the reader, crammed by wary practitioners of "relevance," has a clear sense of the poet's intention of engaging major issues. Where, in one's life, is the godhead? In which moments is one authentically alive, and capable of receiving the extraordinary? Must a vision of peace and concord be abandoned because these things never wholly existed, however briefly? To take on this scale of intention is to work in high altitude without a net. (p. 347)

One of the reasons for the book's lack of soft spots is the direct, stripped dignity of its speech—the opposite of that strenuously obscure style of poetry which attempts to distract from its tiny, jaded core. The lines of The Past Now, rarely long, flexible as the tones of a human voice, create with the reader a one-to-one encounter. It is poetry for which we should be very grateful indeed. (p. 348)

Josephine Jacobsen, in The Nation (copyright 1976 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), October 9, 1976.