32 / CHRONICLESnof cows and casseroles.” This first booknis an extraordinary accomplishment forna young New England lawyer who hasnsounded, as Anthony Hecht observes,n”a uniquely American note.”nBrendan Galvin is another Yankeenpoet. Winter Oysters, his fourth book,nhas been out since 1983, but it is notntoo late to do justice to the freshnessnand vigor of Galvin’s landscapes. It isnone of the very few volumes of recentnverse I find myself returning to, nownand then, for refreshment—like a welllovedncabin in the north woods. Thentitle poem captures something I hadnthought would always elude the versifier’snart—the experience of eating oystersnyou have gathered in the winter:n. . . Thisnis how we like them, notnsummer-thin and weepy touristnfare, but hale as innkeepers,ntheir liquor clear, fat withnplankton that thrives under anglaze drifting just below greennwater, and without any lemonnsundrip or condiment but andash of bourbon to punctuateneach salty imperative.nAt their worst, Galvin’s poems occasionallyndescend to the picturesque, thenmerely descriptive (I am reminded anlittle of John Clare), but he has a way ofnleaping from these needlepoint detailsnup to panoramic glimpses. Going fromna description of a mockingbird’s song,nhe proceeds to observe:nThis business of gettingnthe world rightnisn’t for dilettantes;nwhen the voices fill you,nyou must say nothing wrong,nbut follow them backnthrough the day, going phrasenby phrase over hills. . . .n—lines which say more about poetsnthan mockingbirds.nWith all the good things to say aboutnGalvin’s verse, I cannot help wishing henwould turn from his short unmetricalnlines to rhythmical forms that had morenof the quality we expect from lyricnverse. His rhetorical phrasing is almostnflawless, but the human heart beats tonthe simple cadences of the drum, andnin all the rhythmical systems known innthe world, there is none that is notnbased on a simple alternation of strongnand weak. Still, Galvin’s lines seem tonwork, and there is not much pointncomplaining to a man who has done usna kindness.nThe same criticism applies evennmore to John Knoepfle, whose linesnstrike at least one reader as stiffer andnless responsive than Galvin’s —nsomething like an inexpensive fly rod.nKnoepfle still manages to write ambitiouslynabout the Illinois countrysidenand succeeds in conveyingna mythic sense of the past: British troops,nKiekapoo Indians, Lincoln, FathernMarquette—all make their appearancenin his lyric “saga” of the SangamonnRiver.nFrederick Turner’s science fictionnepic is the most ambitious explorationnin verse that has been seen in years.nTurner cannot be praised too highly fornthis attempt to restore the breadth andnscope of epic, and it was a stroke ofngenius to liberate his story from thenordinary by setting it not in the past butnin the future. There is enough actionnand drama for an adventure novel, andnthe occasional passages of philosophicalnreflection are worth reading as essaysnon the problems of contemporarynAmerica.nThe New World’s vices spring directlynfrom its virtues. Science fiction givesnTurner the freedom to reintroduce heroismnand magic, but it also frees himnfrom the duty to confront our commonnexperience. Really successful epicnpoems like the Iliad, the Aeneid, Beowulf,nand even the Lusiads all celebratena nation’s heroic past. They are morenthan stories, more than histories; greatnepic is almost always a religious attemptnto express the character and destiny of anpeople. The material must be traditional,nbecause it must be perceived as true.nNone of this works when you are makingnit up as you go along.nTurner’s vision of the future hasnsomething in common with Percy’snLove in the Ruins. Both portray a BalkanizednAmerica of fundamentalist reactionariesnagainst urban decadents. FornTurner, however, the heroes are a warriorncaste of libertarian humanists engagednin a war against the Christians. IfnProfessor Turner stays long enough atnUT—Dallas, he might discover thatnthe moral majority is not quite what henimagines it to be, but he might have tonleave campus for that.nFrederick Turner’s experiment is allnthe more significant because he hasnrecently been calling for a restoration ofnformal rhythm. In an important essaynin Poetry, he and a neurologist coauthornargued that rhj’thmical poetry wasnable to integrate the two halves of thenbrain in a way that neither prose nornfree verse could. Some parts oiThe NewnWorld are written in something approachingnblank verse; the rest, alas, isn”based on an enjambed long line dividednby a caesura, as is appropriate fornepic poetry.” Turner cites Sir Gawaine,nnnthe Iliad, and the Aeneid as parallels,nbut neither Vergil nor Homer inventedntheir verse forms, and it is doubtful thatntheir audience had as much troublenhearing the rhythm as I did with:nThese are the Mad Counties ofnVaniah which have vowednto carry the Gospel of Christ bynthe force of their armsnand the fire of theirnknighthood to all unbelieversnand heretics.nThe second line is the only one, Inshould guess, that strikes a reader thenfirst time; with the others you have tonknow how many beats are supposed tonbe there and then go back and fit it in.nTurner’s lines, at their worst, are almostnas slovenly as Lattimore’s translations ofnHomer, which struck one reviewer as anfly trying to get out of a bottle.nStill, there’s no point in complaining.nWhat small hope we have for thenfuture of American verse is bound upnwith a handful of younger poets likenTurner and Fred Chappell. Chappell’snCastle Tzingal is the exception provingnthe rule, since unlike the rest of Chappell’snoutput, it is not about NorthnCarolina or even America. It is, likenThe New World, a narrative fantasy—anfairy tale of decadence and deceit. Anhomunculus begins and ends the tale, ancreature that “had no childhood exceptnan ignorance of politics and gossip.” Henis set to spy on the hapless queenn”stolen away to be the wife of an ironnand fruitless man … a petty Mahomet”nin a world that “hates the good.” Itnis, Chappell concludes, “a story as darknand tangled as the shoal of stormcloudnmangled.”nCastle Tzingal has been described asnan allegory on the triumph of poetrynover the nightmare of human evil, butnthe poems collected in Source are antestament to that power. One smallnexample, “Here”:nBurdened with diadem, thenQueen Anne’s lace overhangsnthe ditch.nThe lace is full of eyes,ncold eyesnThat draw a cold sky intontheir spheres.nThe ditch twinkles now thenrain has stopped.nAnd the ground begins tonpufl^ and sucknWith little holes. A man couldnlive down here forever.nWhere his blood is.nThe volume ends with a sequence thatnincludes poems on the end of thenworld, the Crucifixion, and “Forevern