Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Art of Writing and Others by George Held

The Art of Writing and Others by George Held
Finishing Line Press, 2007, 26 pages, $12.
ISBN 978-1-59924-185-2

Review by Eleanor Goodman

In his tenth book of poems, The Art of Writing and Others, George Held’s erudition is evident on every page. Melville, Van Gogh, John Donne, Bishop, Spenser – his topics range widely, yet his language and angle of approach is always intelligent and sensitive.

When Held writes about other poets, his work often not only comments on but also imitates his subject. These imitations range from the serious to the humorous. One of the most successful of these is a villanelle patterned after Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem “One Art.” Where Bishop’s tone is mournful, Mr. Held’s poem, “The Art of Writing,” is an amusing take on the frustrations of teaching.

The art of writing isn’t hard to teach:
Tell your students to welcome the blank page,
To pick a subject well within their reach.

“Put your words in the best order,” you beseech;
“Be clear as glass and cogent as a sage.”
The art of writing isn’t hard to teach.

“Moreover, make each sentence seem to reach
From one to another as you engage
With a subject that’s well within your reach....”

The rhymes here are simple, but nicely unforced. Mr. Held succeeds were many poets fail, managing to use the form to his advantage, instead of finding it to be a straightjacket.

Mr. Held’s sense of humor is apparent elsewhere in the book, as in “Love Without Sex,” “Brand Name,” and the three line “Poets”:

Poets are gardeners –
Planters, pruners, gleaners –
Till they are mulch.

But there is more to this collection than light verse. The ekphrastic poems, for example, are for the most part serious explorations of the import and effect of art. In “30.12.2006: At the Guggenheim’s Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History,” Mr. Held views an important political event through the prism of a Goya painting.

The tyrant is dead, long live the martyr,
His defiance with noose round neck
Recorded via cell phone
And broadcast round the world
With the taunts of his Shiite lynchers.

Seeing Goya’s Cannibals Preparing Their Victims
The same day that Saddam hangs,
I marvel at the artist’s audacious depiction
Of naked cannibals in a cave
Carrying out their rites....

The political implications of this comparison are left for the reader to intuit, which is one of the hallmarks of a confident writer. The reader has both the pleasure and responsibility of drawing her own conclusions.

Although the endings of some of the poems may leave the reader wanting, Mr. Held’s work is full of liveliness and observation. He more than deserves the beautiful typesetting and careful editing that the well respected Finishing Line Press offers.

--Eleanor Goodman *Eleanor Goodman lives in Boston, where she writes poetry and is working on a second novel manuscript. Her work can be found in New Delta Review, The Pedestal Magazine, The Amherst Review, and Ibbetson Street, among other literary magazines. A collection of her translations of the Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei (王维) were published in Seneca Review.

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