In Mediterranean Air

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

“One Swallow does not make a Winter” was a witticism of the 1940’s inspired when Ivor Winters’ disciple Alan Swallow devoted his small press to an exclusive group of poets; Ann Stanford was one of the poets who studied under Yvor Winters at Stanford, and she published her first volumes with the Swallow Press. She has since won many prizes, appeared in the Borestone “Best Poems,” been included in anthologies and a variety of magazines from fugitive to slick, received fellowships, and published critical articles and books on, among many other things, women poets such as Ann Bradstreet and May Swenson.

The first poem, “Glimmerglass,” sets the tone in a timeless place, the center from which the circular plot with its portraits and landscapes emanate, the ring of house, lake, and shore, outside of which is the “unbroken forest” where “the enemy waits.” The last verse, “Listening to Color,” reveals “My message keeps/ turning to yellow where few leaves/set up first fires over branches/tips of flames only, nothing here finished yet.” The personae throughout are the central and informing intelligence of the poet, as spy, as observer in many guises. Stanford’s method is classical in its restraint, using varied tempo, cadenced rather than stressed stanzas, and modulated rhythms. Imagist with played down metaphors, the poems are distinguished by their original idiom.

“Our Town” and “On Music” furnish echoes of Robinson and Dryden with remarkable variations in modern instances which give the reader pause. They are celebrations of technical excellence almost as abstract as music, the latter poem translating the idea of “Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” through Purcell into Benjamin Britten. The same feeling persists in what might almost be called a transliteration of Euripides into “The Burning of Ilium” with a riposte as current as news from Israel, Cambodia, Ireland: the streaming refugees, “the dust of cities falling,” a dead child in a mother’s arms. The theme is extended in “Libraries” to include the greater vandalism in almost Pindarian terms of ideas and intellect destroyed yet nurtured still.

Quite opposite in feeling is a group of portraits, especially of owls. Old Owl appears in a verse as prelude to a section of bestiary pieces, in which all the creeping, flying, scampering creatures rejoice in his disappearance, while the persona wishes or calls for his return as muse: “Come soon, sweel Owl./I miss your velvet note/ and the soft slip of your wing.” “The Owl Inside” follows as in a nightmare exploding into color and sound, then recalled in “The Message”: “. . . Not to wake/ while owls rummage the trees/search runnels of grass, not seen,/heard, heard into dream.” Other birds appear in other poems, always exactly described but extended to symbol not exact, the unresolved mysteries...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

Choice. XIV, November, 1977, p. 1217.

Hudson Review. XXX, Winter, 1977-1978, p. 585.