Frederick Morgan Robert B. Shaw - Essay

Robert B. Shaw

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I have rarely read a book of poems as eclectic in style and as uneven in achievement as Frederick Morgan's "Death Mother."… In this, his fourth book, a beginner's awkwardness crops up unpredictably to startle a reader who has just been admiring something finely turned. Certain modes (and Mr. Morgan tries just about everything) are simply not for this poet. Some "confessional" poems about a previous marriage do not work; neither do a pair of dramatic monologues spoken by an early American colonist and a Caribbean trader. Other narrative or meditative poems begin promisingly only to founder in passages of didactic moralizing. Some are unintentionally comic, such as a poem on the Wedding in Cana….

On the other hand, an elegy for the poet's son achieves a genuine and dignified pathos. And there are fine descriptive lyrics inspired by the austere beauties of Chinese poetry…. The long title poem, a hymn to Kali, the archetypal mother and destroyer, attains a remarkable momentum and deploys its obsessive, unpleasant images with memorable force.

Mr. Morgan's previous book, "The Tarot of Cornelius Agrippa," a sequence of prose poems, was free of unexpected descents into bathos; one wonders why there should be such a disparity in the present collection between the best and worst poems. It is to be hoped that in preparing his next volume Mr. Morgan will apply to his own work the standards that have made The Hudson Review such a valuable journal. (p. 24)

Robert B. Shaw, "Mixed Report," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 3, 1980, pp. 9, 24.∗