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Parnassus - 2007

Parnassus is beautifully constructed. First, there’s the odd but intriguing painting on the cover, Gustave Moreau’s “Oedipus and the Sphinx,” which forms part of the subject matter for one of the poems found inside – “To Constantine Cavafy,” by Richard Howard. Turns out Cavafy wrote a poem about this painting without ever having seen it. Like Howard, the reader can have the luxury of knowing what Cavafy missed, and can also have the pleasure of reading a lengthy review of Howard’s own work, written by Langdon Hammer, poetry editor for The American Scholar. Richly detailed, careful reviews that offer insight not just into a poem or two, but a poet’s life work, are this journal’s hallmark. Other treats to be found inside include an essay on an ancient, pre-Islamic form of Arabic poetry called a qasida, preceded by a sample qasida in translation. There’s also an interview with an Iraqi poet who lives in the U.S. and writes in Arabic, an essay on portrayals of poets and poetry in recent fiction, and a respectable sample of gorgeously reproduced paintings and photographs. And let’s not forget the poetry. Here, as with the essays, Parnassus is generous, giving space to several long poems with long lines. Perhaps my favorite was “Danielle Suite,” by Albert Goldbarth, a long, philosophical narrative about the ways we attempt (but fail) to protect ourselves from loss by creating “backups.” Take, for example, the burglar: “It’s dark / but he can see, in the yard, a perfect example / of one of those plastic rocks that thoughtful homeowners use / as a backup: inside is the duplicate key.” Weighing in at over 400 pages, Parnassus is truly a journal of substance, one no poetry lover should miss. []

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Review Posted on April 30, 2007

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