Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place by Eric OrmsbyFine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place by Eric Ormsby

Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place

byEric Ormsby

Paperback | December 1, 2010

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Fine Incisions is a collection of twenty-four gracious, intelligent and occasionally fractious essays, wide-ranging in their interests and rigorous in their analyses. Ormsby's reverence for language is luminously clear as he examines his international travels, the work of James Merrill, the state of North American literary criticism and more in a series of essays as vivacious as they are provocative.

Eric Ormsby's poetry has appeared in most of the major journals in Canada, England and the U.S., including The New Yorker, Parnassus and The Oxford American. His first collection of poems, Bavarian Shrine and other poems (ECW Press, 1990), won the QSpell Award of 1991. In the following year he received an Ingram Merrill Foundation Awar...
Title:Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and PlaceFormat:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 8.73 × 5.58 × 0.92 inPublished:December 1, 2010Publisher:Porcupine's QuillLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0889843341

ISBN - 13:9780889843349

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Read from the Book

Butterfly on a Wheel: Bob DylanWhether writing on Tennyson, Eliot, Housman, Beckett, or many others, Christopher Ricks has always been a critic of exceptional learning and aplomb; that he has been generally given to a somewhat oblique, even eccentric angle of view -- embarrassment in Keats, the subtleties of punctuation in Geoffrey Hill -- has been to his credit, for while he is in one sense a traditional textual expert of rare authority (witness his editions of Tennyson and T. S. Eliot's smuttier verses), he has also exhibited a delightful ability to surprise. His new book is no exception, less so in its erudition perhaps than in its surprises. Ricks, who recently completed a five-year term as the Oxford Professor of Poetry, has always been smitten with Bob Dylan; even in The Force of Poetry, his 1984 collection of essays, he included considerations of the singer as a poet rather than as a popular performer. It is clear now that his infatuation with the singer -- the word is not too strong -- has been no passing fancy but constitutes an all-consuming passion. With his new book, Ricks reminds us, on virtually every page, that the word `fan' derives from `fanatic.'All of Ricks's impressive analytical strengths are on display in Dylan's Visions of Sin. There is no song, no lyric, no mumbled comment from an interview with Bob Dylan, all cited here with excruciating exactitude, that does not elicit from this most acute of auditors some elaborate and, at times, almost comically inflated gloss. Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Keats, Larkin, and many others are adduced to shore up his case. While Ricks's learning and range of reference remain as impressive as always, the very scale of the enterprise overwhelms its subject. It is hard to think of any singer or composer, however brilliant or original, whose work could stand up to the claims Ricks makes for Dylan: Schubert would have quailed with dismay, Noel Coward would for once have been speechless. There is in truth something annihilating in Ricks's advocacy of Dylan; as I read I found myself wondering at moments if this book did not represent a strenuous effort at self-exorcism, as though subjecting the slightest song and the most casual utterance to such drastic dissection might free the fan at last from his fandom.As he makes clear in several statements, which Ricks quotes approvingly, Dylan has always been an instinctual, unreflective composer. He is wary, and rightly so, of excessive speculation on `the artistic process'. Many of his songs, among them the most famous, have come to him seemingly out of nowhere, and he doesn't care to track them to their sources. Spontaneity, or at least the aura of spontaneity, is crucial to the effect of the best songs, as is a kind of rambling vivacity; and yet, in his extended analyses, Ricks freights Dylan's lyrics with so many allusions and references and echoes that the songs seem to have been composed in a graduate seminar rather than on the fly. If Dylan ever reads Ricks's book he may find himself so paralyzed by self-consciousness that he never picks up his guitar again.Ricks's case is this: Bob Dylan is not simply a consummate performer and a marvellous lyricist who revolutionized popular music in America over the last several decades, but a poet and indeed, not just any poet, but a great one, worthy to stand alongside the most illustrious in the language. To make his case Ricks must first establish that Dylan is a poet and that he sees himself as such. Ricks asks, `But is Dylan a poet? For him, no problem.' Ricks then quotes from Dylan's `I Shall Be Free': Yippee! I'm a poet and I know it Hope I don't blow it.These immortal lines somehow fail to convince me. But Ricks persists:The case for denying Dylan the title of poet could not summarily, if at all, be made good by any open-minded close attention to the words and his ways with them. The case would need to begin with his medium, or rather with the mixed-media nature of song, as of drama. On the page, a poem controls its timing there and then.Ricks then ushers in, of all people, T. S. Eliot, who he says `showed great savvy in maintaining that ``Verse, whatever else it may or may not be, is itself a system of punctuation; the usual marks of punctuation themselves are differently employed.'' ' Eliot's quite suggestive comment is used, however, only to buttress Ricks's next statement that `a song is a different system of punctuation again.' Well, maybe, but what does this prove? Not much, as it turns out, for Ricks has inserted the Eliot citation only to lead into Bob Dylan's use of the word `punctuate' in an interview. The interviewer asks him, `It's the sound that you want?' And Dylan replies, `Yeah, it's the sound and the words. Words don't interfere with it. They--t

Table of Contents


Shadow Language: Foreign Accents in English Poetry
Passionate Syntax (William Butler Yeats)
The King of Never-To-Be (Walter De la Mare)
Butterfly on a Wheel (Bob Dylan)
Gilded Totems (James Merrill)
Mosquitoes in Eden (Richard Outram)
Ultimate Distillations (Daryl Hine)
Ancient Chills (Elizabeth Bishop)
An Austere Opulence (Geoffrey Hill)

Fine Incisions: Reflections on Reviewing

Delousing the Soul (J.-K. Huysmans)
The House in his Mind (William Maxwell)
Secret Lightning-Flashes (Leo Tolstoy)
The View from a Falling House (Katherine Anne Porter)
The Disaster Parade (Richard Yates)

Waiting for the Grammarians (C. P. Cavafy)
Ambitious Diminutives (La Fontaine)

Prague of a Hundred Towers
Two Letters from Prague:
Nostalgia for Bad Times (1999)
Waiting for the Golden Pig (2004)

Fabulous Cities
In Search of al-Majâtî
The Happiest Man in Morocco

The Born Schoolmaster (S. D. Goitein)

Editorial Reviews

`Always, with Ormsby, things come down to the primacy of the word -- the sounds which shape and give ultimate authority. This is refreshing. It's sophisticated yet not done in a complex or over-technical way. It helps to eliminate the general and abstract at the same time as it shows the way such things can and do transform the ordinary into something greater, more permanent, able, through the shaping, to encompass and embody experience. It's admirable criticism and scholarship, certainly, but with the added dimensions of a poet's working knowledge, of fluent multilingual abilities, and a determined search for the almost sacramental autonomy of word and form. It's a heady brew.'