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Review: Dissolve to Island, on the poetry of John Logan, ed. by Michael Waters, Ford-Brown & Co., Houston, Texas: 1984.
Would I lay out $10.00 for this combination of selected poems and essays by John Logan's former students and admirers? No. Would you? I doubt it. But all of us could probably feel comfortable in recommending it be purchased, to have our tax money funneled through some library. I’d like to say, better books, any books, than bombs, but we know it doesn’t work that way. So how does this work, this particular book? It is adequate, and that ain’t bad.
It has a bit of name recognition: Marvin Bell and David Wojahn; it has a unique feature: large selection of poems so that the reader can better understand the essays; it has a good bibliography; and it has a few pictures to satisfy our curiosity and to demonstrate that Logan is loved by his family. And all of this isn't bad, and it is a very suitable addition to a university library collection. And beyond that there isn’t much to say about it. The essays are competent, but not inspiring or evidence of the best work some of these people are capable of.
Bell attempts to make the early Sixties’ Chicago poetry activities into a “scene” and he gives a rather self-effacing account of how he censored one of Logan’s poems because of the intimidation of a radio engineer. Dennis Schmitz also talks of the Chicago scene though it is more obvious that he is speaking about his scene, his beginning to take poetry seriously. Then there are Logan’s poems, a generous selection. And Logan comes off well enough. Though not really to my taste he should appeal to the “serious” undergraduate if there is such an animal. Logan is literary (aren’t we all? I mean he draws heavily on literary allusions etc.), he is an aesthete, ahistorical, lyrical, conversational, and he is Catholic: and if not for this last quality his poetry would not be distinguished from many of his contemporaries.
More essays. Peter Makuck gives a long and fair critique that though it promises to be a voyage through space and time says absolutely nothing about politics, current historical events. Anthony Petrosky gives a heavy psychological reading and a very questionable adapting of Ghost Dance phenomena as an explanatory tool by which to read Logan’s poetics. Tarma Baldwin has a real solid but too short study of Logan's poetics (she also provides the bibliography, obviously a solid, careful worker), and David Wojahn’s essay is a competent look at audience and alienation but not nearly deep enough to explain the compelling themes Logan’s poetry can address especially within the context of the times; how his Catholicism responds or refuses the challenges of Liberation Theology, for instance, has no place within the essay. Is Logan’s Catholic verse only a variant of Duarte-style, or better, Notre Dame approved, Catholicism? Such a question seems to be a reasonable one, maybe even an important one, but there is nothing in this book that allows for such questioning
And finally, there is nothing in this book that is negative. Logan comes across as basically a hard working decent guy who struggled in the academy, has been modestly rewarded, has been, probably still is, a good teacher, and he has attended to the craft of poetry. But, he shouldn’t be canonized as a saint. Is there anything wrong with asking some hard questions about his work? This review isn’t the place for that and this book hasn’t done that and Logan isn’t really served by the omission.