Form and Content

“Compass rose” is a cartographic term, referring to a visual device which is an aid to navigation and a help to travelers. Found on maps, the rose is a circle divided into thirty-two points, the longest of which aims toward true, or magnetic, north, while the others determine the points of the compass. In many maps, especially those from earlier times, the compass rose is often elaborately ornamented with fantastic designs, making it both pleasing and useful. Yet above all else, it determines direction.

Evan Connell’s choice of title was apt, for Points for a Compass Rose is built upon the structure of a voyage of discovery and exploration. In Connell’s case, however, while the voyage is both external and internal, it is primarily within the hearts and minds of human beings, and the discoveries are the heights of nobility and the depths of baseness to which human ability can reach.

Points for a Compass Rose is classified as poetry only for want of a more precise term. In fact, it is a book which does not fit in any established genre, and to call it poetry is misleading. In form, the text has the look of free verse, but Connell’s lines lack the rhythmic signature and the economy of expression that distinguish poetry (even the freest free verse) from prose. In its organization, however, the book resembles many a modern poem, shifting rapidly from subject to subject. It is given unity by certain recurring themes and...

(The entire section is 512 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Bach, Bert C. Review in Library Journal. XCVIII (March 15, 1973), p. 874.

Dillard, Annie. “Winter Melons,” in Harper’s Magazine. CCXLVIII (January, 1974), p. 87.

Edwards, T. R. “Surprise, Surprise,” in The New York Review of Books. XX (May 17, 1973), pp. 35-37.

Fahey, James. Review in Best Sellers. XXXIII (June 15, 1973), p. 136.

West, Paul. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXVII (April 29, 1973), p. 7.