At the forefront of the New Formalist movement, Turner Cassity is perhaps truly “the wildest of the students of the late Yvor Winters,” as he once described himself. In the poems of THE DESTRUCTIVE ELEMENT: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS the familiar forms of couplet, tercet, quatrain, and others are paired with jarring images and disturbing ideas to create work that is both traditional and iconoclastic.
This collection begins with some strong new poems, then selects from his earlier books chronologically. The poems are epigrammatic, flip, meditative, and wily. They thumb their noses at contemporary ideas and ideologies in cleverly constructed verse, and they take the conflict between practicality and beauty as the subject for ironic musing.
The settings of these poems span the globe, and the cast of characters dips into history, myth, and contemporary happenings. Provocative epigraphs seem to have served as the motivation for some of the works. Some are pithy, acerbic character sketches. Many come from remembered scenes in Turner Cassity’s more than three decades as an itinerant poet.
These poems are memorable for their innovative use of rhyme, off-rhyme, and a host of rhythms to express themes and ideas that may be controversial in phrases that will be remembered and quoted. The layered ironies make it hard to locate the poet behind the words, and to identify position from persona. The works are teasing, surprising; they are sometimes musical, sometimes dissonant. THE DESTRUCTIVE ELEMENT is a treat for readers who like formalist work, and a challenge and puzzle for those who do not.
Sources for Further Study
Kirkus Reviews. LXVI, March 1, 1998, p. 300.
The New York Review of Books. XLV, April 23, 1998, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, February 23, 1998, p. 70.