temporary poetry that readers often askrnGioia how old his daughter is now.) SydneyrnLea’s “The Feud” depicts a spat betweenrnneighbors, which escalates incrementallyrnfrom farce to tragedy. Finally,rnin “Frost at Midnight,” Mary Jo Salterrnhas written an impressive blank verserncharacter sketch of Robert Frost.rnTom Disch and R.S. Gwynn are probablyrnthe most conspicuous representativesrnof a third movement within the newrnformalism—the recovery of verse sahre.rnDisch’s “Zewhyexary,” composed ofrncouplets written in anapestic tetrameter,rnis a tour de force that takes us through thernalphabet backwards: “Z is the Zenithrnfrom which we decline, / While Y is thernYelp as you’re twisting your spine” all thernway through to “A could be anything. Arnis unknown.” (One can see why Disch isrnalso an accomplished writer for children.)rnThis is followed immediately byrn”A Bookmark,” an English sonnet aboutrnthe four-year tedium of trying to readrnProust’s masterwork. The poem concludes:rn”How I was looking forward tornthe dav / I would be able to forgive, atrnlast, / And to forget Remembrance ofrnThings Past.”rnOne of the most original poems inrnRebel Angels is an inspired bit of plagiarismrn—R.S. Gwynn’s “Approaching arnSignificant Birthday, He Peruses ThernNorton Anthology of Poetry.” Gwynn hasrncreated a kind of verse collage by liftingrnfamous lines from English poetr’ and arrangingrnthem so they come out in alternatingrnrhymed quatrains of iambic pentameter.rnThe final stanza conveys itsrngeneral quality:rnDownward to darkness onrnextended wings,rnBreak, break break, on thyrncold gray stones, O sea.rnAnd tell sad stories of the deathrnof kings,rnI do not think that they will singrnto me.rnGwynn is good enough to redeem thatrnmost maligned of tropes, the pun. Forrnexample, the word “philistine” can referrnto the peoples of ancient Philistia, whornstaged epic battles with the Hebrewsrnthroughout much of the Old Testament.rnBut it can also mean a banal middleclassrnsensibility. In his poem “AmongrnPhilistines,” Gwynn manages to have itrnboth ways by telling the story of Samsonrnand Delilah as if it were happening inrnour contemporary culture of ActionrnNews, tabloid exposes, and Hollywoodrnblockbusters. The contrast betweenrnpresent-day vulgarity and ancient mythrnhas been a staple of modern poetry sincernat least The Waste Land, but rarely hasrnthe point been made with such tellingrnhumor. Metrical form (again rhymingrnquatrains of iambic pentameter) is anrnideal vehicle for Gwynn’s wit. Consider,rnfor example, the following lines:rnHer perfect breasts, her hips andrnslender waistrnMatchless among the centerfoldsrnof Zion,rnWhich summoned to his tonguernthe mingled tasternOf honey oozing from the rottedrnlion.rnIn a sense, the effective pun is simply arntelescoped instance of what the NewrnCritics call the ambiguity of poetic language.rnWe find another brilliant examplernof this device in Greg Williamson’srn”The Counterfeiter.” On the surface,rnthis poem describes a criminal artisanrnwho prints fake money in his basement;rnhowever, the tale soon becomes a meditationrnon the nature of art itselfrnAlthough the perfection of the counterfeiter’srncraft would lie in completernanonymity, normal human vanityrnprompts him to include some signaturernmistake (e.g., reversing the flag abovernthe White House roof) in every billrnhe prints. Given the connotative richnessrnof his subject matter and controllingrnmetaphor, the pun at the end ofrnWilliamson’s second stanza seems naturalrnand apt. Describing the counterfeiter’srnliving quarters, he writes: “In thernden, above two ebony giraffes, / Hangsrnthe first dollar that he ever made.”rnA fourth tradition within the newrnformalism can be traced back to the redoubtablernantiromantic Yvor Winters.rnEssentially a dualist. Winters insisted onrnboth rational content and metrical formrnin poetry. According to Gerald Graff,rnWinters believed that “such devices asrnpoetic meter, rhythm, and syntax arernmore than mere technical apparatus;rnthey are a kind of spiritual grammarrnwhich, like a person’s characteristic gesturesrnand facial expressions, reflects hisrnwhole disposition toward the world. Itrnfollowed from this that literary form isrn’moral’ in Winters’s sense—a judgmentrnas to how the world is to be understoodrnand dealt with.” The Winters legacy wasrnpassed on, in what Dana Gioia describesrnas a kind of apostolic succession, by J.V.rnCunningham at Brandeis and by DonaldrnStanford at the Southern Review. Althoughrnthe only representative of thatrnlegacy in Rebel Angels is Timothy Steele,rnone can find it to a notable degree in thernwork of two Southern poets not includedrnin the anthology—David Middleton ofrnThibodaux, Louisiana, and the late JohnrnFinlay.rnIf people can be judged in part by thernquality of their enemies, the new formalistsrnhave been particularly blessed. DianernWakoski (author of “Dancing on thernGrave of a Son of a Bitch” and other poemsrnof feminist rage) has denouncedrnthem as un-American and Eurocentricrnfor having renounced the free verse traditionrnof Whitman and Williams. (Doesrnthis mean that Longfellow and Frostrnwere not real American poets?) In anrnattempt to infer political motives in thernreversion to form, Wakoski sneers at “thisrnnew generation coming along whichrncannot deal with anxiety of any sort andrnthus wants a secure set of formulas andrnrules, whether it be for verse forms orrnhow to cure the national deficit.” Waxingrnapoplectic, she even calls John Hollanderrn”Satan.” This would seem to bernthe inside joke behind the tide “RebelrnAngels.” One suspects that, unlikernSatan’s hordes in Paradise Lost, the newrnformalists are out to displace false gods.rnBecause of the sheer diversity of thernnew formalism, one need not endorse orrnreject it in its entirety. Those who findrnconfessional poetry to be exhibitionistrnand self-regarding are not likely to thinkrnit any less so when it is written in meters.rnSome of the poems in Rebel Angels seemrnfacile and trivial, and the selection of certainrncontributors appears to have beenrnmotivated more by affirmative actionrnthan by considerations of merit. A bookrnof the same length that included thernwork of no more than a dozen poetsrnwould have allowed a more generousrnselechon of the best neo-formalist verse.rnEven at its present dimensions, one questionsrngiving more space to Marilyn Hackerrnthan to Dana Gioia. Such quibblesrnnotwithstanding, Rebel Angles is an importantrnand valuable book. (Its index ofrnverse forms also increases its usefulnessrnas a textbook.) By once again makingrnsong and story central to the art of poetry,rnthe new formalists are helping to restorernthat art to its ancient function. Thosernwho care about the fate of our culturernmust secretly be of the devil’s party.rnDECEMBER 1997/31rnrnrn