Robert Morgan, a native of the North Carolina mountains and a widely published poet, has been writing essays about his craft for more than twenty years. This book brings together some of his most thought-provoking pieces, reflections upon poetry from the dual perspective of poet and critic.
Morgan begins by examining in succinct and challenging essays the elements of poetry and poetry writing in general, emphasizing the poet’s responsibility to provide, as the title suggest, “good measure.” Good measure, Morgan cautions, means neither facile spontaneity nor the sort of politicization that most often, he says, forces poets into poses of stylized enlightenment and response.
Morgan goes on to discuss specific poets with a craftsman’s calm authority. His reflections upon the American tradition in poetry include a tribut to William Cullen Bryant, an illuminating piece on Robinson Jeffers, and studies of the contemporary poets A.R. Ammons, Russell Edson, and Fred Chappell. His look at individual poets also includes dazzling close readings of piece by the French poet Jean Follain.
In “The Transfigured Body” and “Mica,” Morgan presents excerpts form his own notebooks, meditations jotted down during the process of composing poems These notes made in passing provide intriguing insights into the work of poetry.
Finally, there are interviews with Morgan by other poets: lively discussion of southern writing, the experience of being a poet in America today, and the influence of Morgan’s Appalachian background on his own vocation and career as a poet.
Good Measure sparkles with honesty, deep intelligence, and most of all Morgan’s conviction that a passionate striving for a unattainable perfection is its own reward. The indifference of the public, the success of the third-rate, the scorn of critical theorists for whom literary quality is irrelevant—none of these is an excuse “for not saying the truth with wit, and for not making poems that will shine long after we have ceased our worry and hope.”
Poets, scholars, and casual readers alike will find Good Measure a rich source of inspiration and wisdom.
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