PanHarpersI’m not sure that Jonathan Bate’s biography, Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World, offers much that’s new ... after the first few chapters Bate’s commentary is a pretty tepid affair ... reading Bate’s book alongside Stephen Gill’s newly revised William Wordsworth: A Life, I felt much more excited by the latter.
PositiveAir MailModern literary biographers don’t always indulge in muckraking, but they do tend to focus on earthy as well as ethereal matters ... Still, one of the many strengths of Thomas Travisano’s absorbing new biography of the poet is its tact ... Travisano finds in Bishop’s poetry, fiction, and letters, and his own research, a writer who became, as he puts it, \'the archaeologist of her own history\' ... Travisano quotes well, and everywhere you sense his sympathetic relish for what Bishop termed \'the always-more-successful surrealism of everyday life\' ... [Bishop\'s] life may be, in part, a story about the art of losing, but Bishop had more than one art ... and Travisano vividly portrays the highs as well as the lows of her relationships with the women in her life ... Travisano draws on many sources, but he gives primacy to Bishop’s correspondence, and he’s right to call her one of the most enthralling letter writers of her age.
RaveThe London Review of Books\"Uglow is excellent on Lear’s poetry and its oblique conversations with life, not least because she realises the dangers of thoroughness. His nonsense makes you unsure of what – or how much – you should say about it, and Uglow often handles this difficulty by tactfully drawing attention to what doesn’t quite happen in the poems ... Uglow’s book is the best biography of Lear yet written, not because it always avoids the boring, but because it finds ways to let boredom shed light on – and provide opportunity for – other things. I doubt her readings of the poems would be as imaginative and revealing if she hadn’t been so willing to give herself up to the ‘excessive immensity’ of the life story.\
PositiveHarper'sRoffman sticks close to her subject. Three times on the first page she is willing to tell us what he 'felt,' and she tends to refer to 'John' rather than to 'Ashbery' when relating what he experienced, as opposed to what he wrote. Her detective work is nonetheless assiduous (she’s tracked down manuscripts, report cards, his first boyfriend, and much else besides); she’s even found proof that his father did in fact know he was gay. (Ashbery hadn’t been sure.) Nearly every page of The Songs We Know Best contains new material for which to be grateful. The latter half, in particular, becomes the story of how the poet went inside his feelings of being on the outside, and became assured enough to be unsure. ... Roffman interweaves the life story with commentary on the work, and although the commentary sometimes tends toward bland paraphrase, it helpfully returns us to the question — one that Ashbery has himself continued to put in various ways — of what we might wish to do with his poetry, and of how biographical cravings may help or hinder that goal.