Summer 1994 • Vol. XVI No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 1994 |

A Mysterious and Lavish Power: How Things Continue to Take Place in the Work of May Swenson

May Swenson, who died in 1989 at the age of seventy-six, was a lover of riddles. She liked to write them as well as to solve them--the harder the better. Like the riddle poems she assembled in two books for young readers, all her poems have the capacity to tease and delight. "A poem is a thing," Swenson tells us in her introduction to one of these collections, More Poems to Solve (1972).1 Often based on intricate mechanisms that are not easily replicated, Swenson's poems seem more to have been constructed than composed. Excerpting them is an extreme disservice, as it limits the reader's perspective of the overall design. The poems often take up space in every direction on the page, asserting their identity quite literally at every turn. Individual poems have the kinetic ability to spill over diagonally into stanzaic receptacles, embody the shape and spirit of paintings by De Chirico, and spin like a top around a still center. Although Swenson was clearly engaged in the experimental

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