Jeremy Cantor’s collection, Wisteria from Seed, frustrates categorization in most dimensions that commentators find comfortable. It’s principally free verse, but not assiduously unmetered; it doesn’t eschew rhyme; it’s both objective (to the point of clinical) and deeply personal; it has a strong through-current of scientific naturalism (with a pronounced predilection for ornithology); and it often reads as fluidly as prose. Rhetorically, it finds universals in the quotidian, insinuating the reader into Cantor’s personal narrative, its meaning disguised in the plain dress of moment-to-moment experience. In these ways, the work is truly modern, or perhaps contemporary is the better word, in the sense that all of the post-Post-Modern arts have relaxed their self-restraints and admitted a stylistic and technical eclecticism that was strictly impermissible only a few decades ago. In the same way that representation has reentered the visual arts or that tonality and older notions of formalism have been reintroduced to music, classical attributes of poetry have found their way into current expression alongside the cherished attribute of freedom, which is its modern legacy.
From the present volume, take “Sculpture,” which is free yet all but strictly iambic; “Well-Mannered Thief” is canonical iambic pentameter blank verse whereas “Mother Instinct” mixes feet of different types in meters of varying lengths; “Differential Diagnosis” is (self-mockingly) rhyming free verse but “Fallow” reads like prose. That prosaic style is highly developed in poems like “The Full Set” and “Display Case,” which read to me like Faulkner, but not stream-of-consciousness so much as stream of reflection. Imagery can be concise to the edge of crispness, as in “Deference” and “The End of the Tourist Season,” or vivid, voluble, almost reckless, as in “Changing Seasons.”
The poet as observer is fundamental to the modern art, so where distinctions among poets must be partly measured in such qualitative and technical terms, they’re only useful insofar as they assay the voice, the character, the affect and effect of the artist as well as the richness of their subjects—all of these melding in the act of reading. For the casual reader, modern poetry must accomplish two things at the outset:it must be parseable, and it must leave an immediate, even if superfluous, impression. For the reflective or recidivist reader, it steeps in the sub-conscious, bleeding upward as its submerged meaning finds resonance, then inference in the individual mind. In good poetry, reading is as urgent to the activation of the poem as was its writing. This collection is, in that sense, very, very good.
former Classical Music Critic/Arts Correspondent
The Boston Globe