Frederick Morgan Alfred Corn - Essay

Alfred Corn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Henry James praised his Americans for their "accessibility to experience," and this is a phrase that fits Frederick Morgan's poetry. His is an esthetic of inclusions. At the round table of his imagination, many impulses, personal histories and anonymously authored myths are given voice and substance. Morgan has avoided the cage of a single stylistic manner or presentational format; instead he allows his poems to write themselves, with the metric, diction and tone that fit each case. The variety of [Death Mother and Other Poems] is impressive.

The title poem is at once the book's most ambitious and most original. It is written in 10 sections, each taking up some perspective on our earthly end. Death inhabits the poet's imagination as the female archetype of primitive myth—mother, earth, lover, grave. She engenders, nurtures, gives substance and resumes it when the time comes…. Scene by vivid scene, Morgan narrates this metaphysical encounter, and it is a memorable one.

Another ambitious undertaking is "Century Poem," an apocalyptic fantasy that summons the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe to sit in judgment on our dissonant age. The invective, the abandon of this nightmare make for powerful moments; but you feel that the stamp of necessity is missing here, that the selection and arrangement of materials haven't been plotted out carefully enough. By contrast, some of the shorter pieces (such as "President Poem" and "Canandaigua"), with their subtle marshaling of detail and effect, demonstrate the paradoxical strength of the small scale—a good reminder that poems need not have panoramic or prophetic dimensions in order to move us.

Alfred Corn, "To Articulate Sweet Sounds Together," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1980, The Washington Post), March 2, 1980, p. 7.∗