Babette Deutsch Oliver Evans - Essay

Oliver Evans

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

While [Miss Deutsch's] work naturally reflects the changing traditions with which she has been familiar, her best poems have never been merely modish: like Miss Moore, she has succeeded in avoiding the excesses of poetic fashion—the jewelled irrelevancies: Imagism, the elaborate riddles of the Neo-Metaphysicals, the shrill didacticism of the late thirties and early forties. Nor is she often guilty of the besetting sin of women poets: the tendency toward sentimentality and the too narrowly personal.

If anything, her work is not sufficiently personal; many of her poems have an oddly anonymous quality, as if, instead of having been written by a man or a woman, they had composed themselves out of thin air. This can, of course, be a virtue, but it can also be disconcerting: reading through a large number of these smooth, skillfully constructed poems [in Collected Poems], one finds one's self longing for the emphatic, unique, passionate, even idiosyncratic states of personality that distinguishes the work of the truly major poet. She has acquired the art of abstracting and universalizing without, perhaps, sufficiently revealing the private core of consciousness that is the source of all highest poetry. But she can—and for this one is grateful—be hard as a hammer on occasion. (If anyone doubts this last, let him read "Damnation"—one of the most forceful lyrics of our generation.)

She is an Apollonian, not a Dionysian. Her poems are serene without being insipid, and if they do not always move they seldom fail to delight. And they have continued to improve, which is not a thing one can say to many poets her age. (p. 275)

Her proper subject is the quiet joy of the natural world. (p. 276)

Oliver Evans, "Apollonians and a Dionysian," in Prairie Schooner (© 1965 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Vol. XXXIX, No. 3, Fall, 1965, pp. 273-76.∗