Phillip Lopate Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Phillip Lopate 1943–

American poet, novelist, essayist, nonfiction writer, and critic.

Lopate, a lifetime New Yorker, is concerned with commenting on contemporary urban life in a highly personal way. While his writing, including his nonfiction, is highly imaginative, he has said that "nine-tenths of everything I write is autobiographical." Lopate has produced a relatively small body of work so far, but he has explored a wide variety of genres, concentrating on similar themes in each.

Although Lopate considers himself primarily a creative writer, his first work to receive critical attention was Being with Children (1975), a factual account of his experiences as a visiting writer and teacher at a New York City public school. Critics acclaimed the vivid descriptions and insights of this book and recommended it for its practical value to educators. Many also remarked on the literary qualities of the book, especially on Lopate's sensitive portrayal of his students and his relationship with them. Lopate's strong interest in narrative voice, revealed here and in his later work, makes the people he writes about, including himself, into "characters" in the literary sense, and turns Being with Children into what Lopate himself calls "a disguised novel."

In The Eyes Don't Always Want to Stay Open (1972) and The Daily Round (1976), his first two collections of poetry, Lopate examines many of the components of everyday life in New York City: restaurants, male-female encounters, street scenes, and apartment living. Critics consider Lopate's poetry notable for the universal quality of the experiences he recreates, rather than for its technical aspects. Lopate's novel, Confessions of Summer (1979), received mixed reviews but was described by critics as a good first novel. In this story of a New York City love triangle, Lopate is primarily concerned with the emotional responses of his characters.

In Bachelorhood: Tales of the Metropolis (1981), Lopate presents his themes in yet another genre: the personal essay. Although his subject matter is broad, the book gets its title from Lopate's feeling that his perceptions are shaped to a great degree by his marital status. In the Introduction to Bachelorhood he says, "I wanted to add … an unmarried perspective, because, for all that writers and human beings share, it makes a difference—having a mate—in how one sees or 'receives' the world." In an essay entitled "Bachelorhood and Its Literature," Lopate places himself in the tradition of such writers as nineteenth-century essayists Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt, fellow "bachelor narrators."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 97-100 and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980.)