tutes reality, and he also sharply dividedn(on some days — Kant is a verynelusive thinker) subject and object; andnstudents of such teaching began tonbrood, “Suppose the mind gets itnwrong? How on earth would we know?nAnd isn’t all value really subjective?nWhich is to say not really true?” (Kantntaught that beauty is absolutely subjectivenand absolutely universal, but thesenstudents did not heed or buy that.) Andnisn’t language of the Subject? Hownthen can it really deal with the Object?nAnd, besides, language is culturallynderived, not objectively permanent, sonisn’t truth relative to different cultures,nhence not really true? And so on.nA historical study—which this essaynis mostly not—should certainly mentionnsome other influences: Schopenhauer’snredacting of Kant innSchopenhauer’s view that the Noumenon,nthe really real, that which is notnmere appearance, is Will; Hume’snFork—tuned from Kant’s Subject andnObject—dividing Fact and Value andnfathering positivism; Nietzsche’s radicalnskepticism, with his “whirling falsehood”nall discourse reaches for; WallacenStevens, with his poetic geniusnconsumed by the subject of poetics,nperpetually searching for and despairingnof arriving at what might be angenuine poetry.nIn any event, the deconstructiventheories and practices are among us, sonmuch so that theory for many meansnonly such theory. Texts are about theirnown non-aboutness, and what gives thenreader “infinite play” gives the readernno freedom whatever to interpret,nsince there can be no interpretation ofnevidence, no reason to choose onenreading over another. Romantic freedomnonce more, as in the determinismnand progressivism of Shelley’s “Ode tonthe West Wind” and in various formsnof volitionism from Schopenhauer andnNietzsche on, becomes a psychologicalntrap—the will is free to will whatever itnwills to will, and has no grounds whatever,nto do so. Will frets self, gnaws itnaway. Self stutters, doubts its viabilitynor being; will wills on. And form isnsuspect. Or absent.nIn Selected Poems II MargaretnAtwood writes exclusively nonverse.nThis term is offered, descriptively, tonmean “prose, which is not metricalnverse or free verse, lineated by thenauthor rather than the margin.” Thisnassumes that there is metrical verse,nthat there is genuine free verse, andnthat one can discriminate betweennthose and nonverse. Metrical versenindisputably exists; genuine free versenis harder to define or identify withnprecision, but I can give some examples:nthe King James translation of thenPsalms, Walt Whitman’s “When LilacsnLast in the Dooryard Bloomed,”nTheodore Roethke’s “North AmericannSequence,” Wallace Stevens’s “Dominationnof Black,” H.D.’s “Orchard,”nand William Carios Williams’s “MetricnFigure” are beautifully verse.nAtwood’s work in this book, with thenexception of a few passages, is simplynprose, if often skillful prose.nGood writing can be done innnonverse, but a power is missing, andnthe lack matters.nNonverse is very plainly compatiblenwith the deconstructive lyric: the versenis de-constructed, that is, absent. Notnall nonverse is deconstructive in themenor treatment; and some deconstructivenlyrics — in which the impossibility ofngood poetry is presumed and in somenways exemplified — are in metricalnverse, for instance Wallace Stevens’sn”The Comedian as the Letter C.”nNegation is very much part of poetry.nPain, regret, shame, confusion,nself-doubt, not excluding doubts of thenpower of poetry, have been always withnus; tragedy is a chief form, not withoutnreason. And poets love to flirt with thenedges of language. Samuel Johnsonnwrote of Dryden, “He delighted tontread upon the brink of meaning,nwhere light and darkness begin tonmingle . . . [to] hover over the edge ofnunideal vacancy.”nStill, the deconstructive lyric is verynmuch of our modern age. And Atwoodnis an extreme case: her medium isnnonverse, her themes overwhelminglynnegative, her concern with the limitsnand failures—the non-being-ness — ofnpoetry recurrent and self-undercutting.nThere are moments of tenderness, particularlynin her lovely “Five Poems fornGrandmothers,” and some poetry for andaughter, but such moments are fewnand atypical.nShe is also self-consciously feministnand thereby in a way political, but thennihilism outbids the politics. Her poemn”Notes Toward a Poem That CannNever Be Written,” which is, as thenStevensian title suggests, one of thennnmost deconstructive of her poems, isndedicated to Carolyn Forche, and thusncan be seen as nihilism opposing communism,nif only because it finally opposesnall meaningful human action.nHer political techniques are oftenncrude and brutal and simple: the accumulationnof examples of dire sufferingn(usually of women) to “prove” we arennot told what, though there are hintsnand insinuations—the horridness ofnman, the futility of hope, the falsity ofnChristianity, the need for women tonunite (the last is surprisingly rare).nThus, in “Christmas Carols,” thenfollowing examples are offered againstnChristianity and in contempt for thenVirgin Mary: a woman thirty timesnraped and pregnant who committednsuicide, a woman who died in annabortion, a woman who killed herselfnattempting a self-abortion, all the newbornnchildren killed by their mothers innthe 19th century, foxes eating theirnyoung. The conclusion of the poem isnatypically, and not very convincingly,npositive, looking toward “the day /nwhen every child is a holy birth.” Thenpoem achieves a cruel power, and ansense of desperate suffering, but isnlogically opaque, incapable of distinctions.nWhat of women, for instance,nwho refused to have abortions, becausenthey already believed that childbirth isnholy?n-^ ^.nMostly she makes her case by examples,nbut occasionally she argues, as innthe following graceful and touchingnsentence (also in “Notes”): “The factsnof this world seen clearly / are seennthrough tears; / why tell me then /nthere is something wrong with myneyes?nA good argument, up to a point, andnVergil would agree, the lacrimaenrerum, the tears of things, being anliving part of many good poems. Tears,nliterally and as synecdoche or metaphor,nare a just response to the world.nBut it is wrong to say that tears are thenonly just response to the world, or tonsay that the justness of tears makesnaction and caring and bravery and joynmeaningless.nDabney Stuart, in his very fine booknDon’t Look Back, writes in versenand nonverse, and deals with somendeconstructive themes. The poems of-nMARCH 1989/29n