Part guidebook for emerging poets and part homage to a wide range of major poets, Teicher’s We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress...is one of the most enjoyable books about poetry I have encountered. His obvious love of poetry infuses the book with the 'grace, certainty, power, and humility' he so admires in one of his literary heroines, Lucille Clifton. Additionally, because he surveys a diverse group of writers, providing relevant biographical background and anecdotes from their lives and his own, We Begin in Gladness is a book with wide appeal ... It is interesting to review a book that is in conversation with many other books and that reviews works by other writers. In that sense, Teicher’s work offers lessons for art critics, too ... Teicher’s praise for their best poetry is tempered by his honest appraisals of their weaker efforts ... both a subtle commentary on critique and an encouraging anecdote for any poet who questions the quality of their own work ... Teicher’s book is full of insights...and it’s a pleasure to see how the poets he features in it are in conversation with one another across time (generations, even) and space. Though not necessarily a craft book, We Begin in Gladness does what all good craft books aim, but so often fail, to do—it makes the reader want to go and investigate the many works of poetry the author references and to learn more about their makers, much as (as Teicher asserts) 'a real poem points to everything beyond it.'
We Begin in Gladness is well worth reading for its celebration of the art, and for placing poetry as a necessity in today's frenzied society—where dystopian fiction sells well, and too few people take time to read. Teicher's examination of poets' artistic maturation is an engaging topic. If his conclusions are informed by his own taste, we can appreciate him as a generous guide through his chosen profession ... There may be readers who would prefer to have had more background threaded through Teicher's thoughtful examination of the poetic life. The presumption that poetry is a language of common parlance would be welcome if true. But alas, it is not.
Teicher perceptively identifies the philosophical undercurrents in much of 20th- and 21st-century poetry and highlights important patterns of poetic influence. Yet he tends to neglect another key part of any poet’s development: the awakening of his or her political sensibility ... By overlooking questions of social justice and the politics of language, Teicher offers us a portrait of these poets that, however well rendered, is nevertheless incomplete.
In these engaging studies—informed by Teicher’s considerable work as both a poet and a critic, and imbued with a sensibility that is as comfortable in the lyrical mode as it is in the critical—Teicher considers the idea of poetic voice, as well as its complement, form ... Teicher’s charting of a poet’s vocal and formal development might be most compelling in 'Mirror Portraits,' an essay on John Ashbery’s poetry ... Masterfully, Teicher illuminates the thematic core of [Ashberry's 'Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror'].
In carefully considering its technical concerns, Teicher acknowledges that poetry, though the result of concentrated effort, is also shaped by the ineffable. Reading We Begin in Gladness brings to mind E.B. White’s observation that poetry can’t be fully explained ... Teicher’s best insights, in fact, are ultimately about poetry’s connection to the sublime ... We Begin in Gladness can feel somewhat fragmentary. The essays that form each chapter originated in various literary journals, so the book is less a sustained argument than a series of appreciations.
Refreshingly, the author discusses less well-established poets such as Monica McClure and francine j. harris, but he is at his most astute when assessing the oeuvres of poets whose careers are complete, or nearly so ... Teicher’s narrative is marred by occasional romantic self-seriousness—e.g., poets 'are people who, for any number of reasons, cannot, or at one point could not, speak…the keepers of the unsayable'—and he is on shakier ground when, instead of discussing poems, he attempts to divine the motives of the poet ... Imperfect but the insights outweigh the pretension.