(Poets and Poetry in America)

Edward Field’s poetry is distinguished by its casualness, a characteristic he cultivated deliberately in a reaction to the obscurity of much modern poetry. His verse tends to be conversational in tone, syntax, and vocabulary, and usually nothing is concealed. It is easy for the reader to forget that Field is a trained musician and actor, yet perhaps these forms of competence contribute to the power that sometimes emerges in his work.

Stand Up, Friend, with Me

Field’s poetic voice represents the casually personal, often responding to incongruities and offering a city-dweller’s bemusement at the persistence of nature. In Stand Up, Friend, with Me, for example, he describes goats, donkeys, a porcupine, and a walrus. He illustrates his own experience with plants in the city. In “Tulips and Addresses,” he describes how he acquired some discarded tulip bulbs and carried them about with him for months before he found a home. He concludes:

Now I am living on Abingdon Square, not the Ritz exactly, but a place And I have planted the tulips in my window box: Please God make them come up, so that everyone who passes by Will know I’m there, at least long enough to catch my breath, When they see the bright red beautiful flowers in my window.

A similar note sounds in “The Garden,” where, after describing the exotic plants he has sprouted from seed in his home, he celebrates his participation in this collection of living things: “We have formed a colony in a strange land/ Planting our seeds and making ourselves at home.”

The dominant note is the assertion of the importance of the unaffectedly personal, a theme announced in the volume’s prologue, where, beginning with an image of the universe, Field zooms in on the surface of the earth, quickly focusing on New York and then on “this house, upstairs and through the wide open door/ Of the front bedroom with a window on the world,” concluding, “Look, friend, at me.”

Variety Photoplays

Variety Photoplays includes a number of treatments of Hollywood films. According to poets Stetler and Locklin, “Field has discovered and exploited the full mythological potential of old movies.” These poems have such titles as “Curse of the Cat Woman,” “Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” and “The Life of Joan Crawford,” and they offer colloquial résumés of Hollywood films and themes. Each is a sort of dramatic monologue, a self-contained entertainment. Field’s poems in fact often present comical moments that dramatize small events, as in “Plant Poems,” where he assumes the persona of a scientist:

As the leading agronomist in the Kharkov Agricultural Institute I want to announce the discovery that plants feel as we do . . . . . . . . . and when you chop up a lettuce it is saying Ouch.

A Full Heart

The publication in 1977 of A Full Heart drew fire from reviewer M. L. Rosenthal, a literary critic and editor of William Butler Yeats. Rosenthal strongly objected to what he saw as the “indefatigably prosaic” dimension of Field’s poetry, a dimension that Field himself was later to defend by explaining, “I use a local New York syntax, a kind of Jewish syntax that New Yorkers use in everyday life,” and “it seems to me...

(The entire section is 1565 words.)