Phyllis Gotlieb Fred Cogswell - Essay

Fred Cogswell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Stimulated by the possibilities inherent in its title [Within the Zodiac], the reader opens the book to discover that what Phyllis Gotlieb really means by the phrase "within the zodiac" is the interrelatedness of all the material things that comprise the universe in space and time. At least half the poems in the volume are devoted to the synthesizing by mental association of scattered fragments of the physical universe. In "Latitude" the unfolding of Mercator's map is linked to the development of an embryo; in "Small World" the sparkle of empty whisky bottles caught in a net bag suggests the gleam of "imprisoned galaxies".

In her poems of this genre, Phyllis Gotlieb does not rely for her readers' interest upon any previous structure of traditional association or upon the tug and pull of feeling that a more meaningful human situation might involve. She is content to record her insights in free verse lines made up of language that is hard and dry, relying upon the initial pleasure of the surprised recognition of congruity in the midst of incongruity for the impact of the individual poem, and upon the total impression of a number of poems for the development of a cumulative philosophy. This philosophy, I believe, is in essence that expressed in the following lines of Francis Thompson's "In No Strange Land":

The drift of pinions, would we harken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

As a result of relative failure to exploit other resources of poetry, these poems...

(The entire section is 658 words.)