The Lords of Misrule
The Lords of Misrule, X. J. Kennedy's seventh volume of poetry, exhibits his characteristic blend of wit, intellectual curiosity, and formal mastery. The sixty poems collected here explore a wide range of subjects: a scathing curse on a sneak-thief, a wry ballad of Henry James and his not-quite lover Constance Fenimore Woolson, an elegy for Allen Ginsberg, incisive views of contemporary Egypt, a serio-comic meditation on the relic of St. Teresa of Avila which Spain's General Franco kept at his bedside, and a response to the events of September 11. Like the controlled frenzy of medieval Christmas festivities presided over by the appointed Lords of Misrule, Kennedy's poems possess a chaotic humor and frenetic energy held within tight metrical bounds. In his latest collection, Kennedy confirms his reputation as one of America's most accomplished and engaging poets.
About the Author
X. J. Kennedy was born in Dover, New Jersey, in 1929. After teaching English at the University of Michigan, the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (now UNC-Greensboro), and Tufts University, he became a full-time writer in 1978. He has published six other collections of poetry, including Nude Descending a Staircase, which won the 1961 Academy of American Poets Lamont Prize; Cross Ties, awarded the 1985 Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and Dark Horses, which was published by Johns Hopkins in 1992. He has also written eighteen children's books, including Exploding Gravy (2002), and has coauthored several textbooks, including An Introduction to Poetry with Dana Gioia, now in its tenth edition. His numerous honors include the Aiken Taylor Award for Lifetime Achievement in Modern American Poetry, Guggenheim and National Arts Council fellowships, the Shelley Memorial Award, the Golden Rose of the New England Poetry Club, the Michael Braude Award for Light Verse, and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. He lives with his wife, Dorothy, in Lexington, Massachusetts.
For over forty years, techincal virtuoso X. J. Kennedy has entertained readers with tightly constructed formal poems in colloquial language, and he reasserts his formalist credentials in his latest collection, The Lords of Misrule... [Kennedy] makes us understand why our world drives us to song.
The Lords of Misrule contains poems that successfully inhabit the narrow ledge halfway down from the frosty summit of Arnoldian high seriousness and halfway up from the balmy vale of outright light verse. They also inhabit diners, opera houses, traffic jams, motorcycle rallies, pizza parlors, Saturday morning police courts, and even the gallows of Villon's Paris.
[Kennedy] can be light and amusing, or tender and touching, or acerbic and cutting... The Lords of Misrule demonstrates convincingly his poetic breadth and vigor, and the depth of feeling that his verse can convey. The collection confirms his position as a preeminent voice in American poetry today.
Kennedy is often cited as one of American poetry's premier practitioners of light and satirical verse, and here he doesn't disappoint... [however], despite the frivolity supposed by the book's title, and Kennedy's often employed humor, many of the poems are more interested in death and the loss or stoppage of time... in what is one of the best poems written about September 11th, Kennedy brings both his meditation on death and his breath of new life together.
Kennedy writes with contemporary sharpness and displays a mastery of tradition and technique.
New England's master of light verse returns to familiarly sardonic territory in this, his seventh collection, which mixes dry with and restrained verse-narrative with poems on surprisingly serious subjects... Kennedy's work remains cultured, likable, and witty.
Some poets... form part of a historically small but robust band whose spirits never seem to flag in their prolonged observation of the human concourse. Such poets, being able to maintain a witty engagement with life in all its forms and in a variety of stances, strike us as perpetually young and remain consistently readable. X. J. Kennedy falls into this company... [ The Lords of Misrule] happily shows that a poet can enjoy a constant upward curve in both mastery of craft and crispness of expression... This rich and varied collection [was] evidently assembled with a great deal of thought for theme, variation and contrast.
There is absolutely no reason to read the poetry of X.J. Kennedy unless you appreciate form, balance, intelligence, wit, grace and the English language. In The Lords of Misrule... he combines a respect for order with broad humor and a spiritual sensibility, managing to be serious but not somber, comical but not foolish.
X. J. Kennedy belongs to that class of uncompromising formalists that includes Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, Donald Justice and W. D. Snodgrass... Widely regarded, and occasionally disregarded, as a practitioner of light verse... he serves his light with a healthy dose of darkness; his best work is a tug of war between levity and gravity.
Kennedy thrills in writing about the prurient sans prurience... these poems sometimes fall into astounding constellations.
Philosophic and wry in their handling, here are poems on everything from deer ticks, police court, aspirin, cherry pie, Allen Ginsberg, airport bars, and homeless people in an Egyptian cemetery, to the most classic themes of love, death, nature, and history... In their jousting, funny, satiric moods, few readers will find in these pages a theme with which they cannot identify.
Kennedy's verse is wonderfully successful and a delight to read. His work makes us think: How wonderful rhyme and meter are—I was to try that too!
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