Stanley Plumly (review date 1976)
SOURCE: A review of The Private Life by Lisel Mueller, in American Poetry Review, Vol. V, No. 4, 1976, p. 42.
[In the following essay, Plumly offers a mixed assessment of The Private Life.]
“Snow” is a good example of the private life of this, Lisel Mueller's second collection.
Telephone poles relax their spines Sidewalks go under. The nightly groans of aging porches are put to sleep. Mercy sponges the lips of stairs.
While we talk in the old concepts —time that was, and things that are— show has leveled the stumps of the past and the earth has a new language.
It is like the scene in which the girl moves toward the hero who has not yet said, “Come here.”
Come here, then. Every ditch has been exalted. We are covered with stars. Feel how light they are, our lives.
The private life, in this instance, suggests a hard-won intellectual as well as actual passion—even a political stubbornness of mind, if not of heart. There is realization, but more importantly, reconciliation to a condition the speaker can, apparently, do nothing about. All from a rather familiar position of vulnerability. Most of the best poems in this book, in fact, celebrate a condition of personal, even intimate life confronting or confronted by a vague but certain ontological menace. Usually a public enemy. In “Whoever You Are: A Letter,” the antagonist is anonymous only up to a point. Finally, in the last stanza, he exists as publicity.
Someone is already climbing a tower in Texas, is halfway up, is at...
(The entire section is 677 words.)