Feature

Also of interest…in heavyweight poets

Philip Larkin, Jack Gilbert, W.G. Sebald, Wendell Berry

The Complete Poemsby Philip Larkin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $40) Leave this “overstuffed” volume to the university libraries, said Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. It “seems to include every scrap of verse” that Philip Larkin ever wrote, even on Christmas cards, and the annotations fill more space than the poetry. But Larkin deserves to be more widely read. He focused on death, disappointment, and loss, but no one has ever handled those subjects better. He remains “one of the most bracing and unforgettable voices in postwar poetry.”

Collected Poemsby Jack Gilbert (Knopf, $35) Jack Gilbert may be the archetypal reclusive poet, said Abigail Deutsch in The Wall Street Journal. After winning the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1962, at age 36, Gilbert shunned fame for an itinerant life in Europe and Japan. At times, “his imagery is hopelessly romantic,” and when you’re reading his collected poems, “all the loveliness may begin to bore.” But he’s brilliant at evoking loss, and his best poems both “know something of our lives” and bravely attempt to interpret “the Babel of our hearts.” 

Across the Land and the Waterby W.G. Sebald (Random House, $25) This poetry collection “is different from every other W.G. Sebald book in one important respect,” said Teju Cole in NewYorker.com. The acclaimed German novelist, poet, and essayist became known late in life, so the early verse here marks our first chance to watch him grow. He gets better; the mature works are “bracingly concise.” But “what makes this book a splendid addition to an already extraordinary oeuvre” is Sebald’s consistent ability to marry the world’s darkness with its “shimmering light.”

New Collected Poemsby Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, $30) With more than 50 books published, Wendell Berry has earned his reputation as “the dean of Kentucky letters,” said Frederick Smock in the Louisville Courier-Journal. This latest collection from the prolific poet, novelist, and essayist updates a previous version, published in 1985. The newer poems are more experimental than the old favorites, yet marked by an age-earned wisdom, some of it gathered by maintaining a farm for 50 years. Berry remains “an important poet”—“a voice for agrarian values.” 

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