David Katz reviews An Alphabet by Henry Weinfield

Henry Weinfield’s An Alphabet is reviewed in the David M. Katz Poetry Blog.

In 1980, in his book In the Sweetness of the New Time, Henry Weinfield published “Xerxes,” a poem of heroic grandeur in which he incorrectly quotes a line from one of Edward Lear’s nonsense alphabet books. Accompanied by an illustration of an angry-looking little king with an arrow raised in one hand and a scimitar in the other, Lear’s poem correctly reads:

X was once a great king Xerxes
Linxy, lurxy,
Great King Xerxes!

Understandably, considering the regal ferocity of Lear’s drawing, the young poet misquoted Lear’s first line as “X is for Xerxes, / the mad king.” Acknowledging his error a half century later, Weinfield nevertheless uses the misquotation as the epigraph to his highly enjoyable new book of poems, An Alphabet, suggesting the personal evolution of poetic creativity as it may play out over a poet’s lifetime. Indeed, there’s a delightful feeling of completeness, of a road followed to its very end, radiating from the form Weinfield has chosen for this sequence of poems. Like a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or a how-to manual, an alphabet book also aspires to comprehensiveness. Yet, as the title suggests, this volume is “an” alphabet, not “the” alphabet—that is, one poet’s take on written language. Because of the originality of its attack and the exemplary excellence of its versification, however, Weinfield’s book deserves a place on the shelf next to more scholarly volumes on the art of poetry.

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Posted by Dos Madres Press