John Hollander is a poet of great learning and skill whose knowledge and mastery of the English lyric has made him one of the outstanding craftsmen among contemporary poets in the English language. What he calls in his Vision and Resonance “the modality of verse” is the augmenting force behind his verbal virtuousity—his sense of rhyme, meter, wordplay, line, and other formal intricacies. The aural quality of his verse is striking, as is evident in such volumes of his poetry as The Night Mirror and Spectral Emanations. His sophisticated humor and satire and his playfulness and wit in Town and Country Matters and Reflections on Espionage: The Question of Cupcake lend an immediate appeal to his poems. The emblematic poems in Types of Shape display Hollander’s wit and fancy. His last collection of poems, Spectral Emanations, aroused excitement and expectations. Unfortunately, Blue Wine and Other Poems does not promise much, although these poems are less verbose, Latinized, allusive, and of less knotted syntactical patterns.
This volume essentially consists of short lyrics and four longer poems—“Blue Wine,” “The Train,” “Monuments,” and “Just for the Ride.” There are poems on painting and sculpture exploring the interaction of art and life. Dream continues to be a major motif in this collection; and the poet is still concerned with memory, questions of reality, and the problems of creativity. “The New Notebook,” one of the few better poems in the book, exemplifies Hollander’s poetic strength:
These faintly reassuring lines,Gray and reasonably spaced in a field of fainter grayWe may as well call white—Are they the traces of tradition?Are they in themselves the tradition being nearly at oneWith the words that walk them?Or do our forebears silently inhereIn the very characters we feel to be so fresh(Shaken from morning leavesOr struck from...
(The entire section is 936 words.)