December 10, 2008

Review by Janis Lull

by John Kinsella

W. W. Norton
New York, NY
ISBN 978-0-393-06655-5
2008, 400 pp., $34.95

Born in 1963, John Kinsella has published more than 20 books of poetry and several prose works. He holds academic posts in England and the U.S. as well as in his native Australia, edits Salt magazine online, and serves as an editor for The Kenyon Review. Perhaps Kinsella would attribute his energy to his vegan diet or his anarchist-pacifist convictions, but judging from his autobiographical writings, particularly Fast, Loose Beginnings–A Memoir of Intoxications (Melbourne University Press, 2006), he went at life full-tilt from an early age. Maybe he’s just tough. As the comedian and ex-alcoholic Sid Caesar once remarked (Where Have I Been? 1983), many former substance abusers are blessed with strong constitutions, otherwise they’d be dead.

Yet in spite of Kinsella’s stamina and productivity, he is relatively unfamiliar to American readers. His first U. S. publication was Peripheral Light: Selected and New Poems, edited and introduced by Harold Bloom (Norton, 2003). The Doppler Effect (Salt Publishing, 2004) corrected what some thought was a distorting emphasis on the lyric in Bloom’s selection. This second book reprinted poems such as “Syzygy” that were thought to represent the other pole of Kinsella’s style–one that has been called variously innovative, experimental, postmodern, conceptual, and language-centered. Norton then published fresh work by Kinsella in The New Arcadia (2005), and now again in Divine Comedy (2008), loosely based on Dante. The poems in Divine Comedy are by turns lyrical, “experimental” and even prosy–which may be a facet of their postmodernism–but they are always attentive to the details of both language and landscape. Clearly a maximalist when it comes to words, the poet is also a passionate advocate for non-human life forms.

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