Mitchell is by turns playful and
biting. Scraps of speech
and information aren't harnessed
to Latin roots.
Mitchell locates the appeal of
Milton's language as a model
for developing a personal language
which expands the self.
[Frost's] poems are condensed
without being simple,
and luxurious in a deeply moral
way. But Frost,
although she has published a
selected volume, is a poet of possibilities.
has designated Milton as one of her poetic influences, while Carol Frost's
poetry can be illuminated by that of Milton and Mitchell. While John
Milton's poetry has been the focus of debate about poetic influences since
he wrote, and notable poems informed by readings of Milton include William
Blake's "Milton" and John Keats' "Hyperion," twentieth century debate has
focussed on the negative effect of his influence.
in essays throughout his career, blames Milton for a deterioration in the
practice of blank verse in poetry, although Milton helped move blank verse
from drama into poetry. Eliot decried the theological and linguistic
scholarship that informs the poems, although these influenced him.
Eliot cited a failure he perceived in Wordsworth's Prelude to make
his case that Milton's influence could only be detrimental.
Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" writes of mute inglorious
Miltons: Milton's influence forms a sort of canonicity. Virginia
Woolf's allusion to this poem in A Room of One's Own reinforces
When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman
possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a
very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on
the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and
inglorious Jane Austen...
following Virginia Woolf, claimed Milton inhibited subsequent female poets,
tracing his influence through novels instead. Harold Bloom also writes
about the anxiety of influence.
then, sides with the Romantics, although she may be following Harold Bloom
too: she claims special license for poets' reading and interpretation.
Milton's influence, especially on Mitchell's language use, is problematic.
The change she notes between her first book, The Water Inside the Water,
and her subsequent volumes exists and locates it in sound. In the
earlier book, dreams and memory blur and combine in a sea of "deep images."
The path down to the beach is narrow and brilliant white.
This Sunday afternoon the sea is blowing
back on itself, blue scale over blue scale.
["The Beach at St. Anne's," p.23]
in less outstanding passages, some of the faults are journalistic ones
of sentence fragment and comma splice applied for dramatic effect.
later books, Mitchell's meaning is located in attention to language.
But Mitchell's syntax is not Latinate. She does not use regular meter.
She coins words, such as the title of her most
recent book, Erotikon, as Milton coined words. She also revives
poetic coinages which never entered into common use such as "wimble" and
"wight." There is a difference between the gilded post-sublime Mitchell
intellectually identifies and the accomplishments (among them, extremely
various tone) of her poems, however.
also lists the creative histories of William Hickling Prescott as formative.
Mitchell re-associates these non-fiction romances of colonialism with Southeastern
Florida in poems including "Golden Bough: The Feather Palm," "Golden
Bough," and even poems which do not appear in Erotikon, such as
... But what's
love compared with wild red fruit, a big
gold moon, and an evening that smells of paradise?
touches Frazier's work with synesthesia, T.S. Eliot, and Boca Raton, but
elides Apocalypse Now or Heart of Darkness.
but why green should be genuine and this other
this bleaches this platinum this gold
oh, I can be plain I can be
plain green in the slippery sunlight the oily --
["Golden Bough: The Feather Palm," p. 30]
is by turns playful and biting. Scraps of speech and information
aren't harnessed to Latin roots. Mitchell locates the appeal of Milton's
language as a model for developing a personal language which expands the
self. In this passage, from "Bird: A Memoir," "bricoleur,"
a popular literary-critical term, is recognized for its crackling sound.
"Tiggy" is Teutonic. The scraps are twigs. "Tisket" and "tasket"
refer to the nest as a basket. "Touchwood" is kindling:
Bricoleur is what I am. Collector of scraps: sappy,
unraveling, precipitous. Fragments I yearn together
to build what? A tisket? A tasket? No, I am not one
to nest, not one for who the tucked-in, the tiggy, tiggy
touchwood matters overmuch.
clarified that the "I" in this poem is "Bird," a bird.
influenced by other writers, Milton wove his expressions together with
a grand tone which overrode his rhetoric. His poetry was the definition
of the sublime — an idea neo-classicism stole from Longinus — for his time.
His poetry joined profound passion with serious thought. It is also
very energetic: the verse is so rich it is not exhausted by the words
on the page.
In her essays,
Carol Frost displays her interest in neo-classical poetics as well as Romantic
and neo-Romantic reactions to them. A bit of Milton's richness is
in her eleven line poems, but Frost seems to seek to resist it:
Larry Levis told me he thought there was a lot of energy left
over at the end of some of the shorter poems, and I wanted to
see where that energy, if it was there, could take me and whether
in a longer poem, with its greater variety of dramatic forces and
dissonance, I'd know how to create and sustain a newer (for me
[Interview at PoetryNet]
poems are utterly unlike Levis'. Her poems are condensed without
being simple, and luxurious in a deeply moral way. But Frost, although
she has published a selected volume, is a poet of possibilities.
Frost could sustain the same questioning and passion she has in her eleven
line poems over a "long poem" rather than eking them out to a few pages
using more words. Frost's tone might best sustain the variety of
stories and topics within a larger scope that longer poems require.
While all of her assorted poem styles in Love & Scorn carry
her tone, her tone rules the subjects, which is paradoxically human/sensual
and religious/natural: a larger unity would be feasible, and fabulous.
poem "Pure," the title poem of a previous book, generalizes a deer hunting
tragedy in Northern New York several local poets have eloquently recorded.
It is included in a series of eleven-line poems in a section called "abstractions"
in Love & Scorn. These poems are not compact: the
poet's riding roughshod over rhetoric. "Ecstasy" begins by recalling
Issa's famous haiku, "Naked in the rain riding a naked horse": "Her
ecstasy rises like a rider on a leaping horse." Then the rain enters
the poem, "The ground falls away, the sky, precipitate, / whirls."
The poem, which also describes sex, concludes embodying the haiku, "she
is within herself again, exhilarated, and strangely proud."
"The sun shaking open the pink and yellow sky --"
["Rural Weather," p. 15]
In a new
poem such as "Rural Weather," the weather, beyond the pathetic fallacy,
is the poet's body. In fact, Frost's poetry isn't about the "other"
at all. The body is in every poem. The poem begins with this
description, but then moves to time and place, "That is now, and I am at
my window a spring morning / imagining 'later on' and 'then' and 'after
Mitchell writes, in "The Grove at Nemi," "Then and after
were of no use to me, nor the desire / to make permanent the impermanent."
(p. 40), Frost associates time and place. Time and place unifies
"Rural Weather," which seems fragmentary but isn't. "My cat, delicate
Satan" brings in a vole, and a decision: "if I praise him" using
words "he'll eat it, otherwise it'll rot" but still be dead. Death
is the transition to "young murderers on the news," perhaps, unnamed, the
Menendez brothers, and judgement, "to mock the eternal Coming" which returns
to the consideration of time and place, and leads to a return to the weather
which began the poem.
the biblical creation story and its symbolism in old and new poems.
In "The Snake Skins," which is in the alphabetically-ordered "selected"
section, Frost metaphorically ascribes intrigue within the body, and a
relationship, to the snake: "The intrigue of this house / is a snake
in the foundation." Other images in the poem repeat this location.
In "The St. Louis Zoo," in the "new" section of the book, "you are the
snake, the snake coils in you," locates the snake and desire within
the body more explicitly.
post-sublimity, her concentration on juicy bodily imagery, and Mitchell's
more baroque language use display the influence of Milton. Mitchell's
newest book contains two longer pieces, the poem "Bird: A Memoir"
and the title work, which is part prose, "Erotikon." Along with her
short, sound-based lyrical work, the book (and all of her books) displays
unity poem to poem. Frost has been assembling a longer work with
pieces, and her erotics help sustain a view of the pieces as a whole.
Mitchell, Susan. Erotikon.
HarperCollins, 2000. ISBN 0-06-055353-7 $14.00
Frost, Carol. Love and Scorn:
New and Selected Poems. Triquarterly Books, 2000. ISBN
Carol Frost, at Poetry Net, http://members.aol.com/poetrynet/month/archive/frost/intro.html
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The
Madwoman in the Attic.
Susan Mitchell, The Water Inside
the Water, Wesleyan University Press, 1983.
Susan Mitchell, "Books that Changed
our Lives," Publisher's Weekly, http://www.publishersweekly.com/nbf/docs/btcml2_mitchell.html
Susan Mitchell, "The Lost Parrot"
at Atlantic Monthly online, http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/poetry/antholog/mitchell/parrot.htm
William Hickling Prescott, The
History of the Conquest of Mexico, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/PRESCOTT/toc.html
The History of the Conquest
of Peru, http://encyclopediaindex.com/b/hcpru10a.htm
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's
© by Catherine Daly