Peter Wild John R. Carpenter - Essay

John R. Carpenter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The attitudes expressed in [Cochise] are agreeable: romantic love of Indians (without much information or contact), of wild animals, of nature. Wild's favorite images are flames, saints, streams of blood, mouths, claws, slaughter, and lightning; however, his poems are generally peaceful and benign. These recurring images have an independent existence in the poet's mind: they are not related to what he sees, but he likes them and they are part of his permanent repertory. The poet declares his independence from the prosaic world of everyday reality and enters a strange, whimsical world where there is neither the pungency and vivid sensations of the physical world, nor the obsessions and deep feelings of the subconscious. Curious lines crop up like "the cathedrals of his nostrils," "a fireplace big enough for a man roast," "lightning drips from beneath her ribs", "a cheek married to the ditch grass", "baked potatoes burst from heat/from the ears of secretaries". These are imaginative, although often hard to visualize. Many poems are set pieces, such as ["Climbers," "The Poor," "Sailors," "The Indians," and "The Hobo"]. In a realistic sense they have almost nothing to do with the people mentioned in the titles, but they do not try to describe archetypes either, nor are they after the bigger game of psychological processes, feelings, or meanings. Many poems are enigmatic and contain interesting novelties, but it would be a mistake to search for meaning behind them. Wild seems to want to escape from both meaning and sharp feelings; he says that his poetry is "regional, seasoned by the surreal", and his poems often resemble automatic writing which fails to make contact with the subconscious. (p. 167)

John R. Carpenter, "The Big Machine," in Poetry (© 1974 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. CXXV, No. 3, December, 1974, pp. 166-73.∗