Lewis Turco William Heyen - Essay

William Heyen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Inhabitant (1970) is the collection of poems that Lewis Turco has been heading toward for a long time. As his books have appeared his work has not only gotten better, but has changed. (p. 115)

Most of the work in Turco's First Poems (1960) is too stiff metrically, or too pretty, or too ingenious, or too heavily moral and wise. Depending on your tolerance for "promising" first volumes, you're likely to consider Turco's apprentice work "very pleasant to hear," as did Donald Justice when he wrote a Foreword for First Poems, or as merely a sort of unpromising game "exhibiting the most ordinary of all kinds of skill," as did James Dickey when he reviewed it…. What most concerns me here is the strenuous and irritating morality of the book, something the poet had to grow out of. Nothing is more aggravating in poetry than the presentation of conventional wisdom unless it is the presentation of conventional wisdom conventionally. It is not just that some of Turco's early poems are didactic, poems of statement, poems with some of the excesses of newspaper obituary verse, but that behind them is a sort of puritanical fury that demands that every action, everything that happens to anyone at any time anywhere should and must yield its drop of meaning. Meaning everywhere, but not a drop to think. Turco wasn't willing to allow a poem to well up from its own subtle sense of itself, wasn't willing to allow it to do what it wanted to do.

In any case, apprentice work, it seems to me, does become interesting as its potential is or is not fulfilled with more mature poems, and this is reason enough for its publication. (pp. 115-16)

Awaken, Bells Falling: Poems 1959–1967 (1968) represents a great step forward. This third collection—an impossible-to-get-hold-of chapbook, The Sketches, was published in 1962—has already arrived. Most of the poems are finished and satisfying. Occasionally the sermonic tone of First Poems still breaks through and is offensive, but for the most part skill, awareness, and curiosity brought these poems into being rather than the constant puritanical rage for a sign. Turco's voice is less insistent. Authorial intrusion is at a minimum. The sensibility behind these poems has made an intelligent decision, a decision of the intelligence, and is willing to allow its subjects to Be rather than constantly Become. An example of the book's method and belief is its shortest poem, "School Drawing":

There is a road: no
one is walking there. Brown
paper, black paper triangles
wrangle with the air
to make a windmill
striping a crayon
sun. A black arrow points
away from the blades that turn in
fire. It is burning,
and there is no wind.

This means what it says, no more and no less. Turco has gone back to the innocence of words here. The fire of illumination in this book, as...

(The entire section is 1313 words.)