The Shock of the Old

Reading editor Ryan Wilson’s moving and ruminative appreciation of the poet David Bottoms, “Transfiguring Angels,” I was reminded of a couplet from Chaucer, “It is ful fair a man to bere him evene, / For alday meeteth men at unset stevene.” Ah, yes. “Unset.” Shades of Hardy in the fourteenth century. But that is how poetry hooks us, making connections always. To read Wilson’s essay is to be reminded of that happy fact.

Who is David Bottoms? Ask Edward Hirsch: “I met a thin, polite, bearded storyteller who dropped peanuts into his Pepsi.” As strong and funny as that is, it’s funnier when you remember the opening line of Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”

By way of Manet’s “Mademoiselle V.,” it can be tempting to see modernist art as a jest—as in the punning of that proto-modernist Hamlet, “they do but jest, poison in jest, no offense i’th’world.” Ingest that, good reader.

Major dudes? They are still bragging and dancing tiptoe and one is grateful for the privilege to celebrate them in a place where the cloaca of resentments yields to the fons of art, as affirmed by Mary Jo Salter’s “Carlo Crivelli and the Trees”: “Playful, prolific, noted for / tableaux of bounty….”

I learned the Latin word cloaca (sewer) from Joyce’s Ulysses. Fons as in fons et origo. Not hard.

Shane McCrae has fought hard to be heard—he has the requisite courage and he is a prolific writer. Here we have one of his “Hastily Assembled Angel” poems. I haven’t read it yet, but the one I did read was forceful, smart, and interesting. I look forward to this new encounter.

David Ferry needs no introduction. We are grateful he is with us, and we rejoice for this timely garland.

As usual, Literary Matters has erudite criticism in store for you, as well as poetry that passes muster—so many voices to reckon with.

As for this old dude, it has been a pleasure. David Bromwich will soon take the reins of the ALSCW. I am grateful to him and to many others. The ALSCW could not operate without Ernie Suarez, whose contribution to American letters ought to be widely recognized. I would also like to mention for their friendship and support John Briggs, Archie Burnett, John Burt, Greg Delanty, James Engell, David Mikics, Jeff Peters, Christopher Ricks, Richard Russell, Diana Senechal, Sallie Spence, Rosanna Warren, and Ryan Wilson.

I shall leave you with lines by my teacher John Hollander:

Here summer stands while all its songs pass under,
A riverbank still time runs by, remaining.

Lee Oser

Lee Oser

Lee Oser is President of the ALSCW. His next book of literary criticism, Christian Humanism in Shakespeare: A Study in Religion and Literature, is forthcoming with Catholic University of America Press. His next novel, Old Enemies, is in progress.
Lee Oser

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Author: Lee Oser

Lee Oser is President of the ALSCW. His next book of literary criticism, Christian Humanism in Shakespeare: A Study in Religion and Literature, is forthcoming with Catholic University of America Press. His next novel, Old Enemies, is in progress.