Phyllis Gotlieb Louis L. Martz - Essay

Louis L. Martz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Ordinary, Moving] is one of the liveliest and most original volumes of poetry that I have come across in several years. Mrs. Gotlieb's style is based upon the established mode [of taut, terse phrasing, drawn from daily speech, filled with images from daily observation, and composed in free verse], but it is continually infiltrated and invigorated by an impressive, almost bewildering number of ancillary influences: Dylan Thomas, nursery rhymes, children's game-songs, Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, along with passages of graffiti and echoes of American Negro ballads; then there is also a strong infusion of Jewish and French traditions, with words constantly drawn from these and other linguistic sources…. The volume is designed to have a measure of unity, beginning with ancestral memories, moving on through scenes of daily life, mingled with memories, and concluding, as it began, with a poem (this time a long one) entitled "Ordinary, Moving." This last piece may at first strike one as merely a clever pastiche of popular rhymes and songs, adapted with wry, witty effect to the poet's mature understanding. But what may begin as a rollicking celebration of childhood … soon takes on a somber undertone,… until the sense of threatened and blighted youth leads into two Blakean passages, one a poem about a child wool-picker and another about a "little chimney sweep." And then, following sections dealing with Negro slaves and the Belsen persecution, comes a reminiscence of a recent disaster in a Welsh mining town…. So the whole poem becomes a celebration and lament for all the world's children, ourselves. I am not sure, after several readings, whether this poem is entirely successful, but it is an affecting and exciting experiment. This might be said of Mrs. Gotlieb's whole volume. However outrageous, however experimental, it is continuously good to read, with notably fine and nearly perfect poems scattered throughout. (pp. 557-58)

Louis L. Martz, "Recent Poetry: Established Idiom," in The Yale Review (© 1970 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Vol. LIX, No. 4, June, 1970, pp. 551-69.∗