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Bob's Blague

Review of HORSEGOD

Horsegod: Collected Poems by Robert Bagg

October 26, 2009
by Patrick Gillespie

• In exchange for a complimentary copy, I expressed interest in reviewing poetry by poets “in exile” – the self-published. Specifically, I was looking for poets who trade in meter or rhyme, the disciplines of traditional poetry. This book, Horsegod: Collected Poems, by Robert Bagg, was the first book I received. What a great way to start.

Me? A reviewer?

And in addition to this book, I have two more books to review. I ask myself: What if it were my own poetry? No poet wants a comment that discourages readers from reading their work.

I favor criticism that analyzes poetry on its own terms rather than according to the tastes of the reviewer. For an idea of what I mean, check out my post on Marjorie Perloff’s criticism. (What poet wants to read that his or her rhymes are too simplistic when that is precisely the kind of rhymes they are pursuing.) Poets make aesthetic choices, and my own philosophy is not to criticize them for that – but to observe. Let’s see how I do.

About Robert Bagg

Just a couple words, because there’s a perfectly good biography of Bagg at his own website. The thing worth noting (and to my profound envy) is that he met and studied with  Read More 
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"Why Perish? Self Publish"

Self-publishing has long been synonymous with vanity publishing of books that can’t pass commercial or literary muster. Most established authors recoil from going that route, though many will also have an unpublished, but cherished, manuscript on their hard drive or in a drawer. While it may never completely shake its historic stigma, self-publishing  Read More 
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Kirkus Discoveries Advance Review of HORSEGOD

HORSEGOD is moving steadily through the fairly elaborate editing and publication process at iUniverse. So far, I've been impressed by the expert attention my manuscript has received––at least as good as that provided by my trade and university press editors. The initial evaluator was extremely helpful. I accepted virtually all of his/her tough-minded suggestions and strictures, one of which led me to rewrite almost completely my early long poem in 29 Spenserian stanzas, "The Tandem Ride." Curious readers may read it now in its updated version on the Poetry page of this site. iUniverse has also made HORSEGOD an Editor's Choice, which means they'll promote it a bit. It will also be available to bookstores on a free return shipping basis. I'm not sure if that will entice bookstores to stock it, since many are wary of contemporary poetry, except by the Billy Collinses of the genre. But we'll see.

Kirkus Discoveries has issued an the following pre-publication review:

A gorgeous collection that tells the author’s life story in exquisite verse. Bagg writes that he follows Ezra Pound’s dictum, that “poetry should be as well written as prose.” This is curious advice from the Modernist master, since many believe poetry to be the more scrupulous mode—or at least one that requires more careful attention to writing. But after reading a few of Bagg’s poems, readers begin to understand how well written he expects prose to be—and how deeply that expectation has infused his work. In all his verse, the author brings the comprehensibility of prose together with the accuracy of poetry, and accomplishes a near-miracle. Many of his works recall the easy expertise of John Ashbery, another experimenter with prose poems. Listen to the unadorned, unpretentious force with which he announces his mother’s death in the collection’s opening, and perhaps strongest piece, “Ostrakoi”: “The morning Mother died, Dad walked me / through her roses: ‘It’s so unfair … Mom dying / at sixty-two.’” Such economy of language allows for the communication of complex emotion without the embarrassment of showy melodrama. (Another highlight is “The Closest Thing,” the author’s account of his brief brushes with Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, a delicious treat for lovers of 20th-century literature.) Like a well-made shoe, Bagg’s writing is comfortable, durable and put together with meticulous care. But the author is a bit of a cobbler himself, filling his works with myriad allusions to topics from Greek myth to Roman architecture to Dantean tragedy. In the curious “Notes,” the author explains some of his references, but perhaps they are the book’s only real weakness. Bagg seems desperate at times to make sure readers understand his encyclopedic mind, but readers will surely make the effort on their own.

Superb poetry from an established talent.

I agree (in part) with this reviewer's questioning of my 20 pages of notes and have dropped the ones that most poetry fans will not need.

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