Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place
‘A poem, I thought, is a physical object, as tactile as a statue. I began to consider poems in textual terms; there were shaggy surfaces, knobbly ones, mere veneers as sleek as glassine, but my favourites were those in which a complex and tensile music prevailed....’
Eric Ormsby, that gracious, intelligent and occasionally fractious poet, has produced another vigorous collection of essays to shake North American literary criticism from its lethargy. Opinionated and hilarious, Ormsby indulges his wide-ranging interests and discusses writers from Bob Dylan to S. D. Goitein, La Fontaine to Leo Tolstoy. Fine Incisions also draws connections between Ormsby’s literary criticism and his travel writing; as his essay ‘Shadow Language’ notes, the music of another language can seep pleasurably into a writer’s work (and, as Ormsby also notes, the lack of such linguistic overlap cheapens much of contemporary poetry!).
Although the topics vary widely, Ormsby’s viewpoint remains sharp and uncompromising, and his familiarity with North American, British and Arabic literary cultures informs each essay and leads to new and provocative reflection. Most of all, each essay is an expression of Ormsby’s own romance with language, and his devotion is clear in his adamant insistence on all writers’ very best.