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I'm not actually sure which direction of writing Warner is most famous for, as she was good at everything-- short stories, novels, biography, translation, poetry, diary, and some of the finest personal correspondence ever collected. I personally seem to have concentrated more on her nonfiction, the diary and letters, because she is one of the writers whose fiction knocks my own fictional voice away from itself for a while, who makes a strong enough impression that I begin to talk like her. (That said, you should all go read Lolly Willowes, which is the best novel ever written about witchcraft.)

So here is a spread of the poetry, which I'd encountered some of excerpted elsewhere.

It's very good. She's a poet of rhyme and meter, but personally created form, bar the occasional sonnet, and a poet of narrative and image in the service of emotion, rather than philosophy. Her greatest gift, I think, is the ability to turn the accepted on its head in simple language-- 'How this despair enjoys me,' she says, for example, which is true and plainly put and not something I have seen elsewhere. I have arguments with some of her scansion, but then we do not speak the same dialect of English, so I may be missing something there. And there is no one like her for near-rhymes that work more strongly than a firm rhyme would.

That said, I can't find her a great poet, as opposed to a good and a congenial, both for the aforementioned scansion things, which I find irritating, and because, well, because I don't know why. Because she doesn't stick in my head indelibly the first time through, which is what happens with poets who have really crystallized something for me.

This book is well-selected, although short, and wide-ranging, narrative and humor piece and character piece and love poem and war poem and nature poem and ballad and a chunk of something longer all together, and it grows as it goes on and she gets older. I don't know how emotionally affecting some of this would be if you don't know her life well, but I do, and so I can trace the particular travels and familial references, and the poems of her widowhood are very hard to bear. Worth your time, Sylvia always is: one of the writers who is not, necessarily, friendly, but whose acerbicity can be more welcoming than kindness.

An excerpt. )


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March 2017

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