FIRST LITERARY REVIEW-EAST
April 2012 - BOOK REVIEWAfter Shakespeare: Selected Sonnets, by George Held
Cervená Barva Press, Somerville, MA (2011)
ISBN # 978-0-9831041-9-3
Reviewer: Arthur McMaster
The considerable wit and wisdom of George Held, retired professor at Queens College, New York, is complemented and controlled - if I might venture that word - by form. The combination yields a marvelous book of poems. All sonnets. Some like sonnets that have never been done before.
How does he do it? We'll save the why he did it for last. That's the best part. How he manages is by use of the poet's wonderful observational powers. Held demonstrates how supple a sonnet can be in a book of some seventy engaging fourteen-liners. A few of the most pliant, tart, and tempting include a lament for John Kennedy the Younger, dead now "off the mist-kissed Vineyard" for twelve years. Held praises the long-beguiling awkwardness of the mother of our nine Muses whom we call ( but seldom aloud ) Mnemosyne. He admits to ambivalence for the gift of Company, prone to stay too long we assume. Held even takes on the seductive power of Cupidity - engine of wealth, slayer of leisure. He finds Boredom "the master of small talk. . . Like a terrier chewing on my / Cuff. . ." But where these poems work so well is often in their connection to poets and writers who give Dr. Held such generous ideas: Camus, Yeats, Wallace Stevens. Montaigne, too! I'd take my hat off if I were wearing one, just to doff the cap.
George Held is fluent in the early Elizabethan sonnet, and of course with her gilded Italian forebears, but he offers a display of real panache in exercising a more "contemporary" work from most of these. I can't think the American sonnet has been as well displayed since Robert Hayden. And why? Why a book of sonnets for the new century? New-Formalism gets a well-deserved boost with After Shakespeare, but I can't think he is intrigued only by the demands of form. The poem on his page 5, "Spenser on the 'E'" - the New York subway system - unpuzzles the uncertainty. Held was put up to it by a friend sharing a ride. "Serendipity sets down the challenge / And our imagination must oblige." Looking back to Euterpe, Muse of elegiac poetry, we are grateful for form and beauty as well as beholden to those, like George Held, who show us the way ahead. That is surely Serendipity at its best.
Arthur McMaster is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. He also writes short stories and stage plays. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Poetry East, Wisconsin Review, Southwest Review, Rhino, North American Review, and Subtropics. He has two published (prize winning) poetry chapbooks: Awkwardness was selected by the South Carolina Arts Commission's Poetry Initiative, in 2008. More recently, The Spy Who Came Down with a Cold was published by Finishing Line Press. Having previously taught creative writing for Furman and USC Upstate, Arthur now teaches writing and Twentieth Century American literature courses at Converse College.