Although the New England Review contains mainly poetry and prose, I thought the highlight of this issue were the nonfiction pieces.
Of poetry, Valerie Wohlfeld’s “Hawk” and Jordan Davis’ “No One’s Going to Tell You What to Do” were my favorites. “Hawk” will resonate with anyone familiar with falconry. Wohlfeld decries the hawk’s imprisonment, saying the bird’s reined in by “the alien arm / that favors forced loyalty over sporadic love. / Wild the need to leave the cage of love!” The poem's speaker goes on a tirade, venting about his lover’s personality. The individual lines have all been heard before, but Davis units them to form a funny, cohesive whole.
Literary criticism usually isn’t my favorite, but James Longenbach’s essay, “Line and Syntax,” is complicated yet accessible. His detailed discussion of syllabic lines, metrical lines, and free-verse lines made me look at every subsequent poem I’ve read a little more carefully. He illustrates his argument that “Line has a meaningful identity only when we begin to hear its relationship to other elements in the poem.” His examples include mainly through Shakespeare’s King Lear, but he also discusses poems by Williams, Herrick, Ginsberg, and Herbert.
“Romanticism and the Zone of Friendship” by Ronald A. Sharp talks about what the title hints at: Romanticism and friendship which go hand-in-hand as much (or more so) than do Romanticism and love. Sharp cites many Romantic poems whose main focus or inspiration was friendship. I like how Sharp not only emphasizes how friendship inspired art and scholarship during Romanticism, but he also thinks we overlook friendship as a catalyst to great art and scholarship in our own day and age: “Precisely because there is deep trust, it seems to me, we can allow ourselves to relax with a friend and . . . that relaxation opens us up to our own most powerful thought processes.”
And finally, my favorite selection: Aldous Huxley’s letters. The letters of any famous writer – Emily Dickinson comes to mind – tell the reader much about the author’s likes, dislikes, interests, and writing style. I enjoyed reading Huxley’s correspondence to friends and opinion on Madame Bovary and other books, but sometimes I think personal letters were supposed to be private, especially as Huxley writes, “Meanwhile please keep this information as private as possible. It’s appalling how quickly one’s private affairs can get into the tabloids.”
The New England Review isn’t a tabloid, however, and I encourage readers to have a look at Huxley’s great letters as well as the rest of the issue.