Summer 1992 • Vol. XIV No. 3 Book ReviewsJuly 1, 1992 |

Against Mastery

An Atlas of the Difficult World by Adrienne Rich. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 60 pages. $17.95. What Work Is by Philip Levine. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 77 pages. $19.00. When Whitman obliterates his speaker's individuating personality and body in the concluding section of "Song of Myself," the doubled trope of martyrdom and epiphany also signifies an act of artistic mastery, of completion, of transcendental accomplishment. Within the huge cosmos of his poem's vision, Whitman's speaker arrives at last at his own demise, performing and then vanishing into an act of willing self-annihilation: "I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun, / I effuse myself in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags." He hovers just long enough to beckon us to follow his lead, out of the body, even out of the poem, into the graces of natural perfection: "I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, / If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. // You wi

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David Baker is the author or editor of many books of poetry and criticism. His latest collection of poems, Whale Fall, was published by W. W. Norton in July 2022. Baker taught at Kenyon 1983–84 and began a long association with The Kenyon Review then, including service for more than twenty-five years as poetry editor. He continues to curate the magazine’s annual environmental feature, “Nature’s Nature.” Baker is emeritus professor of English at Denison University, in Granville, Ohio, where he offers two classes each spring semester.

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Introduction

By David Baker

An Atlas of the Difficult World by Adrienne Rich. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 60 pages. $17.95. What Work Is by Philip Levine. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. […]

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