These are the collected poems of a master whose work includes many of the most compelling, savage, and tender poems in the language. Frederick Seidel is, in the words of the critic Adam Kirsch, "the best American poet writing today."
No one can be neutral about Seidel: to his admirers, he tells truths about American life that other poets are too cowardly to state about our obsessions with sex and money; our love-hate relationship with terrorism and war; our hypocritical squeamishness about masculine desire. "I want to date-rape life," one poem begins. From early work imitative of Robert Lowell, Seidel became by the 1990s a fecund dazzler whose rhyming lines, clear and sharp as diamonds, face the facts and stare down headline news. "My subject has always been death and breasts and politics," he says in one poem. Arranged with 27 new poems first, and his debut volume, Final Solutions (1963) last, the hefty collection offers spicy surprises and sticky situations. "In the Mirror" finds Seidel at Claridge's, the expensive London hotel, musing, "I wouldn't dream of plastic surgery/ Unless it somehow helped the poetry." The 100 poems in The Cosmos Poems (2000) digress instead to science ("It is the invisible/ Dark matter we are not made of/ That I am afraid of"). Detractors will ask whether Seidel relies too much, too often, on shock value, and whether he simply celebrates the voraciously boastful ego he claims to mock. This retrospective will continue to fuel that debate.