After six years absence, I have just published a review essay in the great Contemporary Poetry Review, one of the first important internet critical journals.  The review is of two new books by the western poet (and skier) David J. Rothman.  Here is an excerpt from my discussion of the second book, whose opening sonnet introduces The Aeneid as a command metaphor for the journey the book as a whole undertakes:

This substantial book (of whose contents surprisingly little has appeared in magazines) is composed almost entirely in sonnets—Petrarchan and Shakespearean—, villanelles, a couple instances of terza rima, along with a handful of nonce forms, most of which look like sonnets that have slightly overshot or undershot the mark. These latter, in contrast with the excesses of Catapults, add variety and counterpoint to the collection, giving Rothman’s voice added texture or range, rather than interrupting it like a cough.

The book begins,

Older, wiser, more knowing and now sad,

Let us marvel at confidence and joy,

Marvel at the long-extinguished boy

Who woke each day and all at once was glad.

Where is he now? Why are some nights so bad?

How did time earn the power to destroy?

Who hauled the awful horse up into Troy?

For now his smoldering mid-life world’s gone mad:

Here is a poet in full possession of his powers. In a suave Petrarchan octave, he assumes a public voice that moves limpidly between the fleeting position of the personal to the enduring classical form of that consummate story of historical devastation’s path to rebirth in the eternal city of poetic form, Virgil’s Aeneid. The sestet pursues the analogy: this whole book will be a journey through the kingdoms of experience, even through the underworld of the self, toward some kind of hard-earned but real resurrection:

There’s sorrow here and more hard times ahead.

Silent, he watches the city go up in flames.

You can read the whole of “The Ecstatic Discipline of David J. Rothman” here.  It is, I think, a mixed review and I hope it serves as one model of how a literary critic can meaningfully criticize in an age where praise is largely reduced to sloganeering and sales pitches and critique to a savage sort of scapegoating that would require citations from Rene Girard to explain.

One of the first, in my view anyhow, important pieces of criticism I wrote was for CPR, a comprehensive examination of the poetry and poetic theory of George Santayana.  And it became the publisher of the first four installments of my book, Our Steps amid a Ruined Colonnade, which remains to this procrastinating, snowy day about twenty pages shy of completion.

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James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.