Between the Chains
Turner Cassity University of Chicago Press, 1991 Library of Congress PS3553.A8B4 1991 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
"With my eyes closed, I might have guessed a collaboration between William Empson and Noel Coward," J. D. McClatchy has said of Turner Cassity's poems. Cassity's new collection turns an icy needle-spray on topics as diverse as a Polynesian firedance, Johannes Brahms, and the Banque de l'Indo-Chine. Breaking a pact with himself, Cassity has written two poems about the South, which, the poet claims, are unlikely "to cause professional Southerners anything except discomfort."
"Turner Cassity's excellent work is like no one else's. It is funny, at times perverse, and wickedly serious. In this present collection, such poems as 'When in Doubt, Remain in Doubt,' 'Acid Rain on Sherwood Forest,' and 'How Jazz Came up the Elbe' show one of our finest poets at the top of his game."—Timothy Steele
"Cassity thinks on his feet, agile and fierce—funny too."—Thom Gunn
"At a time when most poems seem a commodity, quickly written, quickly read and easily thrown away, Turner Cassity's poems seem even more astonishing examples of good writing and reading, exceptions to be admired and kept."—Edgar Bowers
Devils & Islands: Poems
Turner Cassity Ohio University Press, 2007 Library of Congress PS3553.A8D48 2007 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
As he approaches eighty, Turner Cassity may finally be out of control. His hatchet has never fallen more lethally, meaning if you have the stomach for him he is more enjoyable than ever. Under the blade come Martha Graham, Johann Sebastian Bach, musicologists, tree huggers, Frank Gehry, folk music, folk art of all times and all places, folk… . There are, however, his unpredictable sympathies: Edith Wilson, skyscrapers, Pontius Pilate, Pilate’s legionnaires. He obviously has a soft spot for Pop Culture, although he cannot avoid seeingit de haut en bas.
As usual, he is all over the place geographically. One feels he would slash his wrists before he would write a poem about any city on the traditional Grand Tour. Manaus, Campeche, Trieste, Budapest (as destroyed by Godzilla)—these are his places. He has a disturbing willingness to write on both sides of an issue, resembling in this Bernard Shaw. You have to read very carefully to see whether he tips his hand.
One looks forward to Mr. Cassity’s posthumous poems, when he is beyond the reach of libel. For now, at least, we have Devils & Islands.
Turner Cassity University of Chicago Press, 1986 Library of Congress PS3553.A8H8 1986 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
"With my eyes closed, I might have guessed a collaboration between William Empson and Noel Coward. But of course no one could have made up Turner Cassity but himself. The man is a wizard. In these new poems, each as clear and mysterious as crystal, he has conjured all sorts of miniature wonders and nasty home truths. It is the devil's own sorcery—and pure enchantment."—J. D. McClatchy
No Second Eden: Poems
Turner Cassity Ohio University Press, 2002 Library of Congress PS3553.A8N6 2002 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
If you think that Turner Cassity has mellowed or slowed down since the 1998 release of his selected poems, The Destructive Element, think again. In No Second Eden Cassity is back more Swiftian than ever. Among the targets reduced to ruin are countertenors, parole boards, the French Symbolists, calendar reformers, the Yale Divinity School, and the cult of Elvis. Without turning a blind eye, he even extends a toast to Wernher von Braun.
Surprisingly, there is a poem about the Mississippi in which Cassity grew up. Unsurprisingly, it is a vision quite unlike others of that state. Its chilly and amusing precision is about as far from Southern Gothic as you can get, although elsewhere there are faint hints of a failed Good Ole Boy. Indeed, the final poems in the collection are a bit more personal than one expects of this writer.
As rigorous in form as they are in feeling, the poems of No Second Eden are not for those with preconceived ideas of poetry or its purpose. Early in Cassity’s career, James Merrill described Cassity’s work as “an opera house in the jungle.” True so far as it goes, but he might also have called it the jungle in the opera house: a glimpse at the savagery behind every façade.