HENRY JAMES praised his Americans for their "accessibility to experience," and this is a phrase that fits Frederick Morgan's poetry. His is an esthetic of inclusions. At the round table of his imagination, many impulses, personal histories and anonymously authored myths are given voice and substance. Morgan has avoided the cage of a single stylistic manner of presentational format; instead he allows his poems to write themselves, with the metric, diction and tone that fit each case. The variety of this volume is impressive.
The title poem is at once the book's most ambitious and most original. It is written in 10 sections, each taking up some perspective on our earthly end. Death inhabits the poet's imagination as the female archetype of primitive myth -- mother, earth, lover, grave. She engenders, nurtures, gives substance and resumes it when the time comes: "death has lived at all times in us/and we in her, commingled." Scene by vivid scene, Mogan narrates this metaphysical encounter, and it is a memorable one.
Another ambitious undertaking is "Century Poem," an apocalyptic fantasy that summons the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe to sit in judgment on our dissonant age. The invective, the abandon of this nightmare make for powerful moments; but you feel that the stamp of necessity is missing here, that the selection and arrangement of materials haven't been plotted out carefully enough. By contrast, some of the shorter pieces (such as "President Poem" and "Canadaigua"), with their subtle marshaling of detail and effect, demonstrate the paradoxical strength of the small scale -- a good reminder that poems need not have panoramic or prophetic dimensions in order to move us. "Canadaigua" strikes me as one of the book's best things. The poet remembers a summer vacation after many years have elapsed. The details of a shared domesticity are carefully and freshly painted in. At the conclusion we are told that the narrator's wife is now dead, her grave not far away. From these few givens, the poet makes palpable a sharp sense of pathos and a certain stillness at the heart of bereavement.
Memory, desire, reflection -- these are Morgan's instinctive preoccupations. The fineness of observation and insight on these themes in poems such as "February 11, 1977," "The Path," "The End," "The Ghost" and "The Busses" is admirable. Throughout the poems runs a radical innocence, a childlike quality of vision with some of the same flavor found in John Clare, the paintings of the Douanier Rousseau, or Haydn's cheerful Italian operas.