Richard Tillinghast James Finn Cotter - Essay

James Finn Cotter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Richard Tillinghast's title poem, "The Knife," from his second collection [The Knife and Other Poems,] uses a dramatic, archetypal image: his brother diving into a river to recover a knife, a leap into perhistory and return…. The knife is symbolic of the poem which exists outside because it has been snatched from oblivion. In his personal voice, Tillinghast makes drinking a cold bottle of home-made beer, seeing one's family after a power failure, a cattle charge, and a protest march, fixed moments of epiphany. His free verse is rhythmic, sensuous, and subtle when he wishes to convey an insight trapped in some object and set free. His use of the alter-ego, however, appears contrived when he switches from third-person to first in "Return" and when he projects Mao-Tse-tung as a revolutionary muse in "Today in the Café Trieste." The poems "after" Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Rilke strike me as ventriloquist feats—highly literary ones—rather than as acts of inspiration. Yet in many poems Tillinghast possesses the art of a Hiroshige in depicting water, fish, boats, trees, hills, and light. An oriental economy shines in his choice of details…. (p. 283)

James Finn Cotter, "Outer and Inner Poetry," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1981 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, Summer, 1981, pp. 277-89.∗