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Somebody reading

Barbara Everett

21 June 1984
The Odes of Keats 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 330 pp., £15.70, February 1984, 0 674 63075 0
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... it is a poetry of losing (‘perhaps I have’) maintained with unshakable control and reticence. Helen Vendler’s more-than-sixty-page chapter on ‘To Autumn’ is the culmination of her exercise in the close reading of Keats’s Odes; and she follows many modern critics in seeing the poem as itself the culmination of Keats’s own writing ...
21 March 1996
Soul Says: On Recent Poetry 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 266 pp., £15.95, June 1995, 0 674 82146 7
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The Breaking of Style: Hopkins, Heaney, Graham 
by Helen Vendler.
Harvard, 100 pp., £18.95, January 1996, 0 674 08121 8
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The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Redefinition 
by Helen Vendler.
Faber, 137 pp., £7.99, April 1995, 0 571 17078 1
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... Helen Vendler has the power to steal poets and enslave them in her personal canon. For this she is squeezed between rival condescensions: theorists pity her comprehensibility, while in creative writing departments poets denounce her ‘tyranny’, her ‘narrow aesthetic’, her ‘conservatism’. That both writers and academics complain about her is testament to her influence and gentle longevity – she is the most powerful poetry critic in America since Randall Jarrell ...

Saved for Jazz

David Trotter

5 October 1995
Modernist Quartet 
by Frank Lentricchia.
Cambridge, 305 pp., £35, November 1994, 0 521 47004 8
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... to spurn new emphases. In a previous book about Stevens, Lentricchia upbraided Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler for ‘proceeding as if they had never read the poet’s letters and journals, or as if, having read them, they had come to the conclusion that the worldly life they found portrayed therein pertained to somebody else.’ But he sometimes ...

Hand and Foot

John Kerrigan: Seamus Heaney

27 May 1999
Opened Ground: Poems 1966-96 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 478 pp., £20, September 1998, 0 571 19492 3
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The Poetry of Seamus Heaney: A Critical Study 
by Neil Corcoran.
Faber, 276 pp., £9.99, September 1998, 0 571 17747 6
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Seamus Heaney 
by Helen Vendler.
HarperCollins, 188 pp., £15.99, November 1998, 0 00 255856 4
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... proved ‘congenial to the United States poetry establishment – particularly to its queen, Helen Vendler’. Noting with far too much cynicism the usefulness of her reviews in advancing the poet’s reputation, Fennell accuses Heaney of opting for Vendler’s belief that good poetry is ‘a private musing ...

All Her Nomads

Helen Vendler: Amy Clampitt

5 February 1998
Collected Poems 
by Amy Clampitt.
Faber, 496 pp., £25, May 1998, 0 571 19349 8
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... Amy Clampitt died in 1994, at the age of 74; Knopf had published her first book of poems, The Kingfisher, in 1983. It was followed by What the Light Was Like (1985), Archaic Figure (1987), Westward (1990) and A Silence Opens (1994) – five books in 11 years. These are the books that make up this Collected (which does not include Clampitt’s chapbook, Multitudes, Multitudes, privately printed in 1973 ...

Fronds and Tenrils

Helen Vendler: Mark Ford

29 November 2001
Soft Sift 
by Mark Ford.
Faber, 42 pp., £7.99, May 2001, 0 571 20781 2
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... Suppose, having been betrayed – ‘hooked/then thrown back’ – you decide to let your instant reflex, a desire for revenge, cool off overnight; then suppose you wake up the next morning and your anger takes on a no less pervasive, if different, configuration. Is this how you might be feeling? even after dawn has tightened still further the angle between reflex and use, a sort of sunken tide pushes open my ducts, washes through or else over uncertain crumbling defences, dissolves into itself whatever floats, like quicklime, filters the air through fluids thicker, heavier than water ...
26 May 1994
The Oxford Companion to 20th-Century Poetry in English 
edited by Ian Hamilton.
Oxford, 602 pp., £25, February 1994, 0 19 866147 9
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... This handy compilation (to which I myself contributed a couple of notices) covers, according to the jacket copy, ‘some 1500’ poets and ‘charts the shift from “poetry” to “poetries” – from primarily British and American traditions to a rich diversity of younger poetic identities elsewhere’. It may be doubted whether ‘poetry’ is so easily dislodged in favour of ‘poetries’, but no editor is responsible for his jacket copy ...
1 September 2005
Dante in English 
edited by Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds.
Penguin, 479 pp., £16.99, May 2005, 0 14 042388 5
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... Dante in English’ is an anthology of English translations of passages from Dante (most of them from the Commedia); it also includes poetry in English by authors who have been influenced by Dante. The authors and translators range from Chaucer and other English writers to non-British poets such as Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and W.S. Merwin. Attempts at rendering Dante into English spring from various theories of translation and ‘imitation’, all of which seem to be on display here ...

At the RA

Jeremy Harding: Richard Diebenkorn

6 May 2015
... illustrated an elegant volume of Yeats’s poems from Arion Press in San Francisco, introduced by Helen Vendler. Vendler had already done an edition of Ashbery’s ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’ for Arion, printed on roundel pages – wheels of paper 18” in diameter – with work by several artists, including ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Cooking for Geeks

21 November 2013
... sorbet and ampoules of reduced prawn head bouillon (two Adrià signature dishes). On the other, Helen Vendler. Outcome not obvious. What we outsiders didn’t know is that all undergraduates at Harvard are required to take at least one class in science. As a result, the university offers some courses designed to be appealing to the kinds of student who ...
16 October 1997
by Andrew Motion.
Faber, 612 pp., £25, October 1997, 9780571172276
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... In the sixties, three scholarly biographies of Keats appeared within a short time: W.J. Bate’s and Aileen Ward’s in 1963, Robert Gittings’s in 1968. Each is still very useful; all were admirable, if in different ways. W.J. Bate, who had been interested in Keats ever since he wrote his undergraduate thesis on the poet in 1939, paid special attention to Keats’s stylistic development in a discussion that has never been bettered; Aileen Ward brought to the study of Keats an almost clairvoyant psychological understanding (drawing on, but by no means limited to, Freudian insights); and Robert Gittings (who, before he wrote the biography, had published three short books on Keats) displayed an unexampled mastery of the facts of Keats’s life and its English context ...
31 October 1996
Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-17 
by T.S. Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks.
Faber, 428 pp., £30, September 1996, 0 571 17895 2
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... When Emerson wrote to Whitman that there must have been ‘a long foreground’ preceding the composition of Leaves of Grass, he expressed the curiosity every reader feels when coming upon a fully accomplished poem. ‘How did this art develop?’ – this question accounts for the fascination exerted on us by juvenilia and by manuscript drafts such as the 1971 facsimile of the manuscript of The Waste Land, edited by Valerie Eliot ...

The Numinous Moose

Helen Vendler

11 March 1993
Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It 
by Brett Millier.
California, 602 pp., £18.50, April 1993, 0 520 07978 7
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... thoughts against thoughts in groans grind. For too long, Bishop had lived these moral choices of life/death, right/wrong, male/female: but at last, the early happy years with Lota had made them seem irrelevant, and Bishop, longing for Paradise since her blighted childhood, felt she had found it at Santarém: That golden evening I really wanted to go no farther; more than anything else I wanted to stay awhile in that conflux of two great rivers ...

Indigo, Cyanine, Beryl

Helen Vendler: Jorie Graham’s Daring

23 January 2003
by Jorie Graham.
Carcanet, 112 pp., £9.95, September 2002, 1 85754 621 0
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... The new volume of poems by my Harvard colleague Jorie Graham, in its US edition, bears on its jacket a detail from Vermeer’s The Astronomer, showing the hand of the astronomer as it touches, almost affectionately, the zodiacal globe it is about to spin. Although the star-gazer cannot make physical contact with his remote field of vision, the caressing way his finger lies on the surface of the globe suggests his intense intimacy with the sky ...

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