Book Review: Essay: A Critical Memoir

Essay: A Critical Memoir, by Donald Revell

It is a shame I do not know who this author is, because it might make at least some sense how it is that someone who has published a great many works seems not to know what either a memoir or an essay is. He is a poet, I think, which accounts for his belief that the moronic dribble of this book constitutes an essay, and I suppose he expects at least some of the people reading this to enjoy it. I found no enjoyment in this work except that it was short, and in terms of its incoherence and idiocy it ranks as one of the worst books I have ever read, at least one of the ones that made the least sense as a work of writing and had the least justification for existing. Rather than hear me rant on about this, I am going to select at random a few notable sections of this writing so that you can see what I found so baffling about it:

“Poems are wild for prophecy, for the quick parlay of vision into reality. Begun ahead of time, visions move more ways than one, yet each way is the pattern of itself and cannot change. If not for the leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf, Dante might have taken the shortcut. Happily, Virgil takes him in hand, and together they go the right way around…(54).”

“It’s hard to smile when all that smile are terrified, even the flowers and small girls. No one is comfortable, and no one lives to grow old beneath a gauntlet. I ha my Norton with me everywhere. I continued writing my weekly assignments “Among Small Children” literally, young and old, at play in peril (34).”

“Albion is sick; America faints! etc., etc., mimes the music and the wordlessness. The Pageant of Amor is rapture from beginning to end, Heaven’s slow, ceremonial, irrevocable transaction. Even costumed as a child ragbag Balthazar, a king at last after so many Christmas Eves a shepherd, St. Peter’s Church Westchester Avenue annual pageant, I could not spoil the silence (12).”

It is not as if the author is not trying to convey something about his reading and about his past, because there are scattered hints of memories in some of these and other comments, and the author is especially interested in proving himself to be immensely well-read in the allusions he make to other poets and writers in general, like Dante, Shakespeare, Auden, and others, but this is a terrible slog to get through and is only possible to be endured because it is exceedingly short. I’ll have to make it a point to avoid the author’s work in the future if they are all rubbish like this.

As far as the contents of this book go, the above selection is a fitting and suitably representative sample of the book’s 54 pages, and according to the back cover material, it shows the delight of close reading and looks at the pageant of Dante and Beatrice in 1968 New York as being something like an Edenic paradise. It is not surprising that a poet would think that poetry might be worth being true, even when it comes to dealing with the coasts of Bohemia, and it is not surprising that a leftist would view the Vietnam anti-war movement and New York, two distinctly not godly places, as being close to paradise, but that only confirms that the author is in fact a moron in several different ways, having a terrible idea of what is paradise, doing close reading that does not remotely resemble what the original authors were getting at, and fancying himself to be a far more interesting and far more capable writer than he in fact is. In fact, the rambling here is not too dissimilar from the truly appalling Visions of the Last Adam [1], which this book resembles in several ways, showing at least that this book is part of a family of terrible books and not merely sui generis. I’m not sure if it is better or worse for that.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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