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Sparring with the Sun

Jan Schreiber

“Sparring with the Sun may not have neutralized the verbal acids contained in some of my collected rejection slips, but it has succeeded in teaching me something about the chemical processes that produce them in critics and poets alike: temperament, background, life experience, the impact of a given environment, the age, tradition, the need for consensus and “reassurance,” and the countervailing need to reject the accepted and reassuring. More surprising still, this richly instructive book has pointed out ways in which those processes, producing those same acids, were—and maybe forever, in some dosage—essential to the creation of poetry.”

—From the commentary by Rhina P. Espaillat

“The virtues of this book lie in the precision of its critical sensibility and its willingness to make careful distinctions. The great strength of Schreiber’s approach is that, while he is clearly fond of metrical forms and suspicious of Modernist and post-Modernist experimentation for its own sake, he is nonetheless quite open to admiring the best of that work. His larger point is that despite the upheavals of the twentieth century, the central traditions of poetry in English remain intact and free verse was an expansion but not a displacement.”

—David Rothman

In this lively book presenting six of the most influential poets of the late twentieth century, Jan Schreiber argues convincingly that the strongest and most lasting poems were written in meter, rather than the free verse that dominated the scene for much of the period.

With fresh looks at the work of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Howard Nemerov, Anthony Hecht, W. D. Snodgrass, and Richard Wilbur, these essays give readers new insights into the strategies poets use to fuse sound and sense together in memorable ways. Later chapters take a close look at the work of additional poets considered important by influential editors and critics, and offer a re-evaluation of some reputations that have suffered from neglect in recent years.

Enlivened with plentiful quotations and supported by close and perceptive readings, this book is an invaluable guide through the challenging forest of twentieth-century poetry in the postwar period. A model of evaluative criticism, it also offers illuminating essays on artistic judgment and on the functions of poetry in a diverse, contentious, and changing society.

Commentary by Rhina P. Espaillat »

An excerpt from the introduction by Jan Schreiber »

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Jan Schreiber is a poet, critic, and translator. Over a varied career as a social scientist, software entrepreneur, and literary scholar, he has written frequently on American poets and the problems of understanding and evaluating modern poetry. He lives with his wife Frances in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Rhina P. Espaillat's poems, essays and short stories, in both English and her native Spanish, have appeared in journals and anthologies, as well as her three chapbooks and eight full-length books. Her most recent are a poetry collection in English, Her Place in These Designs (Truman State University Press, Kirksville, 2008), and a bilingual collection of her short stories, El olor de la memoria/The Scent of Memory (Ediciones CEDIBIL, Santo Domingo, D. R., 2007). She has received, among others, the Wilbur Award, the Nemerov Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize in Poetry, the Robert Frost “Tree at My Window” Award for Translation, the May Sarton Award, a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Salem State College, and several honors from the Dominican Republic's Ministry of Culture, the New England Poetry Club and the Poetry Society of America.