Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, September 9, 2007

A rookie poet might fear to write poems that included the names of other poets, as though the life of art were not quite part of life. The veteran master may feel more confident about that. Stanley Plumly's rich, assured new book includes poems about poets of his own generation, living and dead, and of the past. Plumly's "Keatsian," a sonnet of subtly muffled rhymes, disarms by beginning with a sentence fragment that describes a scene seemingly far from Keats's "Ode to A Nightingale." But the word "English" is a smiling allusion, and the child's counting bicycle turns, then poetic forms, reminds us that an old term for verse was "numbers":


My brand-new Schwinn, its narrow English wheel.

I'd turn and circle figure eights until

I couldn't see or fell, the deep sun lost

behind the trees. I was as tall as Keats.

The game was numbers or the alphabet.

Later sorts of sonnets, quatrains, couplets.

Nobody died, as someone's mother or

mother-in-law would say about divorce.

At the end, sailing to south Italy,

grown-up Keats writes Brown that while "Land and Sea,

weakness and decline are . . . seperators . . .

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