Oyster Boy Review 14  
  Winter 2001
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Re-Sounding: Selected Later Poems by Theodore Enslin

Robert West

Theodore Enslin was born in 1925, and thus belongs to what is surely (to borrow a phrase from Tom Brokaw) the greatest generation of American poets: his peers include the likes of Richard Wilbur, James Merrill, Amy Clampitt, A.R. Ammons, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, W.S. Merwin, and Robert Creeley . . . one could easily name another equally celebrated ten or so. Yet Enslin has enjoyed little of the spotlight those poets have basked in for most of their lives. To be sure, he has his readers, and he has attracted a modicum of academic criticism: a search of the online MLA bibliography turns up a dozen critical essays on his work. Reading his late poems, it's easy to see why these things would be so.

Re-Sounding contains 126 poems, though it takes some doing to figure that out: the table of contents is formatted eccentrically and lacks page numbers. Enslin is at least as concerned with sound as with discursive content, and a number of poems amount to dazzling orchestrations of echoes; consider "Trade Off," which begins, "Winds    trade winds    and how they trade / the trading of the heat for water    always trading / one tern to tern    again the flight    a turning trade." Other poems are brief lessons, such as the extraordinary meditation beginning, "To be of one place as another / is forbidden." Enslin's syntax is often both sinuous and halting, and his punctuation is erratic; once in a while a poem apparently intended to make a statement ends up as a puzzle. That said, one should hesitate before dismissing anything here: like all good poems, these demand to be felt out, rehearsed, and inhabited to be appreciated. There are a few people who will give poems such as these the chance they deserve, but only a few.

To be of one place as another
is forbidden      not by law or ritual
it is of the kind and species.
Only at the time of its uprooting
will a tree sense something of its roots
no longer dark and secret
in a parent loam.