Frederick Seidel William Jay Smith - Essay

William Jay Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Frederick Seidel's Final Solutions … attempts the grotesque on a grand scale (there is nothing split-level about it) and at times he succeeds; but much of his book has an air of Grand Guignol….

Mr. Seidel's poems, despite the implications of his title, are not at all political. They are in no way public utterances. Hitler's final solution to the Jewish problem was mass destruction; the final solutions of the characters in Mr. Seidel's poems lie in their personal confrontation of destruction in the private world of nightmare. Everything is seen in a cold, clear, terrible light, unrelieved by any hint of joy. Mr. Seidel speaks through many masks; and certainly he carries the dramatic monologue to new extremes…. But his poetry is nevertheless one of confession, as is shown in the opening poem, "Wanting to Live in Harlem," which is modeled on the Rimbaud of "Les Poètes de Sept Ans." The power of Rimbaud's poetry, as Laforgue pointed out early on, rests "in the extraordinary power of confession, in the inexhaustible surprise of his perfectly adequate images." The failure of much of Mr. Seidel's book for me lies precisely in the lack of such adequate images, in a too heavy reliance on Robert Lowell's meters, and a theatricality that, although at first startling, does not ultimately ring true. (p. 108)

William Jay Smith, "The New Poetry" (copyright © 1963 by Harper's Magazine; all rights reserved; reprinted from the September, 1963 issue by special permission of William Jay Smith), in Harper's, Vol. 227, No. 1360, September, 1963, pp. 106-15.∗