From the extraordinary diversity of contemporary poetry, Peter Stitt, the distinguished critic and editor of the Gettysburg Review, has chosen in this book to write about five poets only, all premier practitioners—John Ashbery, Stephen Dobyns, Charles Simic, Gerald Stern, and Charles Wright, with a special look at Stanley Kunitz in relation to Wright. Stitt's confident and inventive assessments of these fine poets' work help us gain some focus on the “uncertainty and plenitude” of the current poetry scene, demonstrating that concentrated and knowledgeable criticism can show us ways to begin measuring the accomplishments of our poetic age.
Stitt's interest in these five poets is intellectual and aesthetic. As he states, “I chose these particular writers because their work continues to interest me deeply, both intellectually and formally, even after years of familiarity.” He uses his understanding of the philosophical implications inherent in modern physics, as they apply to both content and form, as the basis for his close analysis.
Stitt attends to the poets' writerly strategies so that we may discover in their poetry where “surface form” intersects and complements meaning and thus becomes, in John Berryman's terms, “deep form.” He explains what these poets say and how they say it and what relationships lie between. He also shows how humor plays a part in some of their work.