Jarrell wasn’t about to start tailoring what he thought was good so as better to suit this fellow, but to read Poetry and the Age is to watch a man trying to talk to him anyway. Jarrell’s intervention—and looking back fifty-odd years, it can only be described as such—was personal and relentless. While other critics affected authority, he embraced subjectivity; while others embraced a vocabulary accessible only to themselves, Jarrell could be lyrically colloquial. In Randall Jarrell and His Age, Stephen Burt describes Jarrell’s distinction as a poet: “He made the process . . . of being personally affected by what one reads, continually manifest in his prose style.” Jarrell’s style is humorous, anecdotal, occasionally mean, full of elaborate metaphors and long, shambolic sentences that employ the comma and semicolon like a man raising his finger to pause the audience as their hands go up with questions. “You can’t put the sea into a bottle,” he writes of Marianne Moore, “unless you leave it open at the end, and sometimes hers is closed at both ends, closed into one of those crystal spheres inside which snowflakes are falling on to a tiny house, the house where the poet lives—or says that she lives.”
This is not just impressionistic reviewing; it is imaginative reviewing, which seeks through a few key (but strangely controversial assumptions—that poetry refers to a world outside itself and that readers live in that world—to draw readers to the work itself.
more from Bookforum here.