Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, November 4, 2007

Poetry unsettles complacency. It refreshes the familiar by dissolving the encrustation of clich¿s. Reed Whittemore, now in his late 80s, has made a body of work that often gives pleasure by dosing cant with the solvent of laughter. His new prose memoir, by quoting entire poems, encloses what is in effect a "Selected Poems." Whittemore dips a word like "correct" into the cleansing, restorative medium of his understated wit, in "On the Death of Someone Close":

Neither the least nor the most

Sorrow is becoming

In this instance.

A certain gravity,

A solemn pose denoting

Grief well-borne

Is probably correct.

At parties be reserved.

Restrain the raucous chuckle

And the dirty joke.

Drink less,

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