No Other Way: Selected Prose is a fascinating collection of diverse essays in which Charles North explores a wide range of painters and poets, all of whom paint or write vividly, colorfully, and intelligently. North is stunning in his depth of knowledge and understanding of both fields. He is especially interested in painters and poets with a sense of humor, and his criticism reflects that sense of humor.
North shares with readers Trevor Winkfield’s “Father and Son,” a painting in which a sailor who is a lobster from the neck down is balancing the memory of his wife and son on his head in a heart-shaped water bottle-comic thought-balloon. He explores the fragmented, theatrical, fun poetry of Kenneth Koch, always contextualizing the work in terms of other poets’ influence and what the work means for contemporary poetry. He takes on the whole idea of whether or not a “New York School” of poets really exists. And he presents at least a couple dozen other painters and poets.
North makes breathtaking connections between painting and poetry, and understands each in particular ways that are only possible because of these connections. His comments are very specific, and his analysis of poetry is thorough. As criticism goes, North’s is especially clear and readable, while fully grounded in the context and reference of other criticism. He also continually reminds readers that the art and the poetry itself is what they should be concerned with.