Bagg in Rome, 1958
Drawing by Lennart Anderson
"Bagg is an exceptional poet—capable de tout, as Cocteau says the poet should be. ... No other poet today has found so true, so credible a voice for erotic obsession and the attraction of danger." Richard Wilbur
"The poet's deft handling of a wide variety of forms and his arresting colloquiality resemble, say, Browning at the stage of Men and Women." Rowe Portis, Library Journal
Madonna of the Cello
"[T]his volume ... is distinguished by a number of arresting poems unlike any being written by Mr. Bagg's contemporaries, whatever their years may be." Babette Deutsch, New York Herald Tribune
Bagg in Rome, 2004
Photo by Mary Bagg
"The early poems are as vivid as they were thirty years ago—erudite, voluptuous, wry. To his later ones those years have added a master's somber touch. Robert Bagg's is a slender but altogether valuable body of work."
"If any force can be said to unify these poems, it is the power of memory to erase distance and time and to allow the poet to roam freelyover those experiences which gave him his voice. In those poems where place is emphasized, it is never incidental, never trivial, never 'occasional.' Rather, these wanderings are most often trips through time—the poet's childhood, his visits to France and to Greece, the year in Italy when he won the Prix de Rome (1958-1959). For example, the casino in Juan-les-Pins is a metaphor for the gamble he makes when he spins the roulette wheel on the chance he may reconnect a love affair gone awry.
'Tromp l'âme' also has for its setting the French Riviera, where casual cosmopolitanism so quickly seduces as well as deceives the soul. ... Some of the poems in Body Blows are wise and subtle; others are ecstatic with the pleasures of living or colored with the melancholy of suffering. ... At his most lyrical, Bagg overwhelms with the richness and variety of his skill. In 'Metaphor,' the figure of speech becomes itself—a metaphor for poetry, which, in turn, stands for the very mystery of life: Metaphor / gives every discipline its drama; / turns sorrow into wisdom, / reptiles unto birds, / makes Proteus a foul old seal, / energy mass, and drama deeds; / drives all the savage things we hunt / passionately through our lives / to capture them in magic words."
William U. Eiland in Magill's Literary Annual 1989.
"He has a breadth of observation beyond usual, and an intelligent, sharp eye which extrapolates the Maseratis and the water sprinklers, the gimmicks and the gadgets of what we call modern civilization, and a sophisticated mind which weaves them into painful mysteries."
The Scrawny Sonnets
"The 'Scrawny Sonnets' at the center of the volume relate the poet's somewhat masochistic relationship with a young girl who is, at least at the beginning, in love with someone else. The corrupt innocence of this 'scrawny, queenly' 'faery child' is gradully revealed as she flirts with the poet, pouts, describes her young hippie boyfriend, behaves irresponsibly, but finally becomes his dream girl-bride, a haunted moon maiden who sits outside by the fir trees while the poet professor sleeps in safety indoors. These poems have great potential; the speaker's alternating protectiveness, anxiety, wonder, and joy are depicted in all their vicissitudes."
Marjorie Perloff, ContemporaryLiterature
"Is it terribly selfish of me to ask for a poem that touches my heart? Here is one which does:
Out of damp sneakers and stiff rainy hair,
Blue jeans and brown cashmere, I revive you:
In those days tres tres sage, sniffing the unfair
Intoxications your dank self would brew,
Scrawny prophet of the girl you grew into.
All your wiry might resists that brash whore—
So much so I brace for her, not you,
Prickly elusive, tremblesome and pure.
Tonight I hold that mildewed negative,
Taken of you naked, sucking some pears.
You gave it away, safe in your black hue.
That oath I swore never to develop you
I break now, steeping you in the small hours,
Playful darkness gone and swelling us alive.
... I ask Robert Bagg for more poems like 'Damp Cashmere.' ... As Henry Miller put it in The Time of the Assasins, 'we must find a new language in which one heart will speak to another without intermediation.'" Ted Kooser
Madonna of the Cello
"In Madonna of the Cello the young poet Robert Bagg has achieved a number of shorter narratives that are most exciting. They are youthful, romantic poems, and their subject is the violence and sexuality of childhood and young manhood. But their combinations of exuberant wit, parody, literary hijinks on the one hand, with serious feeling on the other, are what give them their special promise."
Walker Gibson, The Nation