Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Susan Stewart: The Forest

I didn’t think I’d buy it when I saw it in Book Culture (used to be Labyrinth), but ultimately I couldn’t resist Robert Hewison’s John Ruskin, in the Oxford UP series “Very Interesting People.” The series itself seems a reductio ad absurdum of the “Very Short Introductions” series – 120 or so page lives of British worthies, small paperbacks in large type with ample margins & generous spacing.

A glance inside shows that what they’re doing essentially is marketing single lives from the big 2000 relaunch of the Dictionary of National Biography. I suppose with 55,000 entries to that monstrosity, along with the rumors I’d heard of less than stellar sales, OUP is trying to recoup some of what must have been an enormous investment. But Hewison is one of the biggest names in Ruskin studies, author of several important books, & the damn thing was only $3.98 – how could I lose? At any rate, it turns out to be a very nice compact biography indeed, managing to do justice to almost every aspect of JR’s life & career. A definite recommendation for anyone who wants to know a bit more about the man without investing in a full-length life.
The Forest, Susan Stewart (U of Chicago P, 1995)

A kind of effortless mastery to much of this book, & a deep interest in interesting things quite apart from the poet’s own sensibility, which I appreciate – the embryology of “The Desert 1990-1993,” the Biblical rewriting of “Lamentations.” “Medusa Anthology,” which revolves around Gericault’s grand Raft of the Medusa, is the great set-piece, but for my tastes it ends on afar too lyrical, conclusive note – as do too many of the poems. I think I like the more ambiguous, fragmentary works of Part I, “Phantom,” better than the more accomplished longer pieces of “Cinder,” the 2nd part. But there’s much to admire thruout the book, even if Stewart in her more traditionally formalist moments isn’t my cuppa.


1 comment:

undine said...

Thanks for mentioning both of these, especially the Stewart. I'd only read On Longing, not her poetry.