Phillip Lopate Hayden Carruth - Essay

Hayden Carruth

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Phillip Lopate's new book ["The Daily Round"] is titled perfectly. The daily round is exactly what he writes about, and a damned, dull, dreadful, despairing round it is too, most of the time. Oh, occasionally a tentative cheer for the sunset in the park, a dry exclamation at the sight of a girl with her jeans off; sometimes there's even a gasp of refreshing radical anger. But the prevailing tone is melancholy: specifically, the melancholy of New York.

Lopate may deny, as he explicitly does in one poem, that he thinks New York—or the world—is going down the drain, but in the face of the rest of the poems it is a hollow denial.

So we may have what we have had before from older poets like Ignatow and Reznikoff, from many younger poets of Lopate's own generation: details of emptiness, spiritual malaise in the city. He is at his best when he writes objectively about them, the people (including the poet) who walk the streets, inhabit furnished rooms, drink coffee in late-night cafeterias. He can pin down quantities of metaphysical horror in one observed fragment….

Lopate's worst are his more subjective poems, some of them pure self-indulgence, but the good poems are more than enough to support his book. They are lucid, consistent in tone, well and simply written, and—the acid test—they work. They move us. We are reluctant to give in to them, yet we do. Despair and all.

Hayden Carruth, "City Blues," in The New York Times Book Review (copyright © 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 7, 1977, p. 25.