Books: June 4, 1997
Suspended Between Two Worlds
Jacqueline Osherow *90's poetry reflects her contrary impulses with wit and skill
With a Moon in Transit
Jacqueline Osherow *90
Grove Press, $18
Leave the naturalists aside and you can then make out the largely unbridgeable divide between two schools of poetry in America. On one side are the connoisseurs-allied to poems about paintings, foreign cities, ventriloquist visitations from the dead; on the other are the conversationalists-domestically contented, or wildly not so, producing intimate riffs on their bodies, old lovers, the small-scale losses of the everyday. Jacqueline Osherow *90, a rarity among contemporary poets, passes freely between both camps.
There is much to admire in her new book, With a Moon in Transit. For the formalists-at-heart, Osherow offers an easy but uncompromising mastery of technique: a profusion of sonnets; six lovely poems in terza rima, which thread the volume together; even that old favorite-a villanelle-about the refrigerator's fleeting hum at night (points for bravery, since Osherow has to repeat the same line about a refrigerator four times in a 19-line poem).
One suspects that her readership is largely inclined to technique and the pleasures of recognition that come from a thorough grounding in high culture (among the clever, unexpected rhymes are "Requiem" with "Russian Art Museum," in "Late Night TÍte-ŗ-tÍte with a Moon in Transit"). However, many of the poems in her latest volume will also appeal to a more casual aesthetic. Like an ideal dinner guest, Osherow assumes but does not require a great deal of her listeners. Unquestionably educated, she is also amusingly self-effacing, as in "London, Before and After: the Middle Way":
Picture a doting mother,
At best, almost a decent model
A dreaming child sprawled across
Who would ever suspect this woman
of poetry (. . .)?
The book is filled with vernacular miracles, many of which owe much to Osherow's engaging wit. It also is redolent with ghosts (among them, Emily Dickinson) and though they remain just out of reach, the reader senses them at the edges of Osherow's work. The best poems, like the poet herself, are suspended between worlds, sustained by contradictions. Osherow is a woman of contrary impulses-widely traveled and gregarious, she holds Dickinson as her model.
This is an especially hard parallel to uphold now that Osherow is rooted in the expansive landscape of Utah (she jokes that she is a woman of many cities, and an inordinate number of her poems are about cities).
In a way, this dilemma crystallizes the particular tension within the poetry; beautiful, contained objects suddenly jolt into an unexpected light by her relentless longing to go somewhere larger, deeper, to know more, as in "Calling Emily Dickinson to Come, as Guide, Out West":
And it didn't seem so long to wait-
To have one's book on every
In my own way, I'm just as greedy
Trying to have you here all to myself.
Dante at least was worthy of his guest.
While I am stuck with this colossal gulf-
Not just this vast expanse from West
But my wordiness, my clumsiness,
The narrative addresses have a hypnotic quality-really more like late-night conversations-and they make for interesting eavesdropping.
Osherow's interrogation of what is possible in this life is as charming as it is heartbreaking. Her present circumstances (marriage, daughters, regional existence) are confronted by the lives she fiercely longed for (other marriages, other children, other regional existences).
She meditates on what she has and what she might have had with great charm, and her continual reaching is tempered by satisfaction with her lot. The personal poems in the volume (as opposed to the poems on historical or biblical subjects, the most touching of which is "Brief Encounter with a Hero, Name Unknown") occur along a semipermeable boundary: memory faces off with regret, giving way to a generous, clear-eyed refusal to be covetous.
Confessedly willful and dogged, Osherow also goes to great lengths to make peace with the past.
-Melissa Sydeman '88
Melissa Sydeman is producing a feature film for Looking Glass Entertainment in San Francisco. A graduate of the creative writing program, she holds a Ph.D. from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes scholar.
Ballpark Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Baseball Parks Across America
Bruce T. Adams '70 and Margaret Engel
Fodor's, $16.50 paper
While much has been written about the national pastime, the husband-and-wife team of Bruce T. Adams '70 and Margaret Engel, with their children, Emily and Hugh, have done baseball lovers of all ages a great service with Ballpark Vacations. The foursome traveled 25,000 miles through 44 states to watch 85 baseball games in 82 different stadiums, and readers of their book will reap the benefits of their experience.
Ballpark Vacations rates the fan-friendliness of the parks and their environs, and is filled with practical tips for making a foray successful; it's fun to read, too. Historical background in just the right doses is included about the parks and players. And the Adams-Engel's team doesn't paint every stop in glowing colors-for example, the dark side of Boston's Fenway Park includes the lack of leg room, mostly bad food, and horrible parking-but they deliver bad news in its most appealing light. They also steer readers to where the good food and seats can be found, as well as mentioning where to get good souvenirs.
Suggestions on non-baseball related outings also are included, some that are all-time tourist favorites (state capitol buildings, children's museums) and some that are surprises (such as the Golden Gate Cookie Company in San Francisco and Old Presley Gem Mining near Asheville, North Carolina). All in all, this is a travel book that delivers.
Helping Your Child Start School:
A Practical Guide for Parents
Bernard Ryan, Jr. '46
Citadel Press/Carol Publishing Group, $19.95 paper
Practical is the key word in describing Bernard Ryan, Jr. '46's Helping Your Child Start School. The book offers a quick reference for child development of four- to six-year olds, as well as a guide for how to decipher the educational aspects of kindergarten activities and how to supplement kindergarten learning at home. Basic educational terms are explained, and reference material for further reading is included. Teachers and principals as well as early childhood experts are quoted.
The book seems aimed at anxious parents apt to push their children into academics too soon; Ryan reminds readers several times that early reading skills don't guarantee later academic success. He gives a brief but superficial treatment on those at either end of the learning spectrum, children who are gifted or have learning disabilities.
Ryan is full of advice, given in absolute directives such as "Never associate bed with punishment. Never." His biggest tip for parents is to talk with their children, not just to, or at, them. He is most helpful when he focuses on classroom activities and their purposes, and on how a kindergarten teacher assesses a child's skills.
Maria LoBiondo is a writer who lives in Princeton. She was a preschool teacher and has a degree in elementary education.
Simulation, Planning, and Society
Melvin C. Branch '34, *36
Stalin's Captive: Nikolaus Riehl and the Soviet Race for the Bomb
Nikolaus Riehl and Frederick Seitz '34
American Chemical Society and the
Chemical Heritage Foundation, $34.95
More than just a Room: Immanuel House and its Predecessor
Robert L. Edwards '37
Orders to Immanuel Church Foundation for the Elderly, 15 Woodland St.,
Hartford, CT 06105.
A Small House in New Jersey: The Harrison House in Roseland and the Family Who Lived There-Williamses, Harrisons, and Teeds, 1824-1976
Robert Bush '38
Orders to The Roseland Historical Society, P.O. Box 152, Roseland, N.J. 07068, $12 paper (postpaid)
The Power of Boldness: Ten Master Builders of American Industry Tell Their Success Stories
Elkan Blout '39, ed.
Joseph Henry Press/National
$29.95 cloth, $18.95 paper
Egyptian Studies III: Varia Nova
Henry George Fischer '45
Metropolitan Museum of Art, $40
The Tomb of Ip at El Saff
Hennry George Fischer '45
Metropolitan Museum of Art, $25
Iconography and Electronics upon a Generic Architecture: A View from the Drafting Room
Robert Venturi '47 *50
MIT Press, $40
(John R. Russell '49 *66, tr.)
Camden House, $54.95
The Honest Man at Court (1740)
Johann Michael von LoŽn
(John R. Russell '49 *66, tr.)
Camden House, $44.96
A Psychological Novel
Karl Philipp Moritz (John R. Russell '49 *66, tr.)
Camden House, $45.95
Finding Home: Stories of
Roman Catholics Entering the Episcopal Church
Christopher L. Webber '53
Cowley Publications, $11.95 paper
Gabriel Loire: Stained Glass
Charles W. Pratt '56 and Joan C. Pratt
Orders to Ateliers Loire, 16 Rue d'Ouarville, 28300 Leves, France, $70
Manhood at Harvard:
William James and Others
Robert C. Townsend '57
W.W. Norton & Company, $22.95
The Languages of Landscape
Mark Roskill *61
Penn State Press, $65
Philosophy and Cognitive Science (2nd ed.)
James H. Fetzer '62
Paragon House, $16.95 paper
Limits: The Role of Law in
Bioethical Decision Making
Roger B. Dworkin '63
Indiana University Press, $35
The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought
William R. Everdell '63
University of Chicago Press, $29.95
The Ethnic Moment: The Search for Equality in the American Experience
Philip L. Feltzer '65, ed.
M. E. Sharpe, $29.95 cloth,
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying Insurance and Annuities
Brian H. Breul '66
Alpha Books/Macmillan Reference, $16.95 paper
John Mason '66
Red Sea Press, $12.95 paper
The Continuity of
John Koethe '67
Cornell University Press, $29.95
Robert M. Levine *67
M. E. Sharpe, $62.95 cloth,
Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature (2nd ed.)
Benjamin R. Foster '68
CDL Press, P.O. Box 34454, Bethesda, MD 20827. $39
From Distant Days: Myths, Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia
Benjamin R. Foster '68
CDL Press, P. O. Box 34454, Bethesda, MD 20827. $19.95 paper
Shaping Suburbia: How Political Institutions Organize Urban Development
Paul G. Lewis *90
University of Pittsburgh Press, $44.95 cloth, $19.95 paper