Saturday, 1 November 2014

A Volatile Dignity

Reviewing Richard Greene's fourth collection, Dante's House, Peter Richardson is wowed by the title poem:
This 32-page tour de force about modern-day Siena, Renaissance art, horse racing, growing cultural amnesia and Italian history is the equivalent of a twelve-foot lake sturgeon. You see it pass underneath your canoe but your punter’s brain takes a few moments to register what has glided past. The poem’s 29 cantos are full of observations about Berlusconi’s Italy superimposed over its 15th–century equivalent, and it brims with wry self-deprecation, sadness, merriment, raillery, loss, tourist headaches, wise locals and Greene’s phenomenally acute traveller’s eye for what makes Siena singular. 
Brian Palmu agrees, calling the long poem "utterly mellifluous and convincing" and considers it the best thing Greene has done.
The poem’s length lets Greene rummage, ruminate, travel without conclusion, stumble, misconstrue, prevail, and “rejoice” with “a power to bless”. “Dante’s House” is more expansive and more concentrated than “Over the Border”, the similarly structured long end-piece to his previous volume which won the Canadian Gov-Gen award. This poem is far more deserving of accolades, and I hope he receives them.
Edward Short thinks the book's success is due to Greene's "deeply human aesthetic":
Greene has taken up and renovated Robert Lowell’s testimonial art, where so much seems a snapshot, / lurid, rapid, garish, grouped, /heightened from life, / yet paralyzed by fact, though even Greene’s bleakest “facts” never leave us with a sense of paralysis. On the contrary, the empathy he shows his subjects reaffirms their volatile dignity.

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