christian science monitor review of swensen

GOEST, by Cole Swensen, Alice James Books, 63 pp., $13.95

"Cole Swensen leads readers through history as she explores the subject of light, both natural and man-made. The poems in "Goest" travel back and forth through time - from the present-day United States to the streets of Paris in the 1500s and Rome in 50 BC. A highly intellectual poet, she traces the development of incandescents and the events they set in motion. She also writes, with meticulous care, about the color white and, more briefly, about mirrors, whose reflected images become another form of illumination. Her subject matter is often fascinating, and the language - spare and highly visual - seems to mimic flashes of light. "The Invention of Streetlights" is a good example of the poet's approach and tone: "noctes illustratas/ (the night has houses)/ and the shadow of the fabulous/ broken into handfuls - these/ can be placed at regular intervals,/ candles/ walking down streets at times eclipsed by trees." Long lines sometimes slow the narratives and make the work seem denser than it is. More disappointing, however, is the lack of clarity and directness in the book's third section. After following Swensen through many landscapes, the reader longs for a more personal or emotional approach. That payoff doesn't come, leaving one to feel that opportunities for enlightenment have been missed."

I am wondering what the reviewer means by a "more personal or emotional approach" and the word "payoff."

More so the word "payoff." What does it mean to have a payoff. A reward. A cookie for attending sunday school.

Also, lack of clarity and directness.

It's so strange how a lot of poetry reviews still use such a limited criteria. Isn't it possible to take a book of poetry and "evaluate" it on its own terms, what it's attempting to do (rather than what you want it to do).

To me, it's like saying "_____ abstract art does not contain a human form and therefore lacks emotion and clarity."

What art critic could get away with that?

Why is the overall conception of poetry so 19th century?

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