Reviews of Keats-related Books

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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Reviews of Keats-related Books

Postby Malia » Thu Feb 02, 2006 7:30 pm

Hey everyone,
During one of my turns 'round the other day, I came across an interesting book I thought I'd share with you all. I've purchased it--though I haven't receieved it in the mail yet--and I'm curious to see just how good it is. I'm a leeetle bit skeptical of verse bios, but this sounds like it might be pretty good. I've pasted a review below and when I get it, I'll post a review of my own :)

I was thinking it might be fun for us to post our *own* reviews of books about Keats (they could be bios, books of poems about Keats, collections of essays, etc.) I'd love to hear your reviews!


Thanks, Saturn, for helping me figure out how to post images :)

Here's the review I found on-line:

Scenes from the life of John Keats
by Robert Cooperman
Higganum Hill Books (2003) 64 pages, $12.95
ISBN 09351850-X, Poetry
In Petitions for Immortality: Scenes from the life of John Keats, Robert Cooperman portrays Keats’s life using not only the persona of Keats but his brother, friends, would-be lovers and more in poems entitled things like “Mrs. Francis Brawne Welcomes John Keats Into Her Home.” We begin at the deathbed of Keats’s mother, setting the tone for the appropriately mortality obsessed volume. We move through Keats’s struggle to reject surgery for poetry, on to his turbulent career and love life, to his untimely death, and a little beyond to his legacy.

The book’s title comes from Cooperman’s “Wordsworth Remembers His First Meeting with Keats: London, December, 1817.” And in the last stanza, he has Wordsworth say, Later, I recited my “Ballad of Rob Roy,” / a nudge in the right direction. / Let Scott try, in five hundred pages, / to get the times and the man better / than I did in a few perfect lines. Clearly, this sentiment could speak to Cooperman’s own project. It’s later revealed that Wordsworth had a colossal ego, and so let’s hope the irony is intended. Though the task is Sisyphean, Cooperman does get us closer to the man behind his immortalized representations.

Cooperman uses an almost documentary style to capture Keats and his time, shifting from one persona to another, giving Keats and those who knew him a voice. Cooperman also employs clever documentary-like editing, ending one poem with a topic that the next poem takes up, or having the same event rendered through two different perspectives. This last strategy is put to best effect in two poems on Keats and Coleridge meeting. Each legendary poet sizes up the other and at the same time exposes his own foibles to the reader. In fact, part of the joy of the book is the literary gossip, hearing Keats complain, for example, that the most popular poet of the time is the scandalous Byron.

The voices in the poems; however, have inherent problems with the blend of contemporary style and a more formal and archaic language of the era. The diction creates uneasy word choices like “coquette” and worse “poetasters.” And Cooperman repeats period images, which might have worked if the same person repeated them, but when separate characters have similar similes—like enraged mastiffs and like a chained mastiff—it feels like setting shorthand. But as Cooperman’s Keats points out, If critics could kill with a quill’s flick, / not a poet would be left alive.

You don’t have to be familiar with Keats’s life or his work beyond remembering him as one of the great Romantic poets, but the more you know the more these often stirring poems give.
S. Craig Renfroe

Stay Awake!
--Anthony deMello
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Postby Saturn » Thu Feb 02, 2006 11:48 pm

Sounds like a strange and interesting book.

Let us know what it's like :wink:
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Petitions for Immortality--A Review

Postby Malia » Sun Feb 05, 2006 3:01 am

Hello everyone :)

As I mentioned earlier, I found an obscure book related to Keats called "Petitions for Immortality" which is a collection of semi-biographic poems about Keats written from the perspectives of Keats and his family and friends.

I bought the book because I thought it would be a unique addition to my Keats library (which, after counting them up the other night, amounts to 22 books). I didn't expect the poems to be very profound (or even good). I expected them to just be a labor of love written by a college Professor called Robert Cooperman in his off-hours (which it pretty much is :) ).

I've read a good chunk of the poems and here's my assessment thus far.

What I like best about the collection is the perspective Cooperman uses to approach scenes from Keats's life. The poems in this collection are written from the perspectives of several different people--including Fanny Brawne and her mother, Brown, Rice, Dilke, George Keats and Fanny Keats. Some of the scenes and poetic dialogue he creates contain some high drama. . .as when Keats begs Severn to kill him while he lies dying.

I was kind of disappointed not to find a poem from Tom Keats's perspective. Though he's mentioned in many of the poems, he's always just the invalid brother who tries to put on a happy face. I would have wanted to have seen more depth to his character.

The poems are OK (I've copied my favorite below ;) but not great. Oftentimes, Cooperman has different people use the same image again and again which detracts from the poems' strength, I think. For example, he uses the word "mastiff" a lot--as in "bull mastiff" which is a type of dog. OK, if he'd had George and Dilke and Fanny Brawne use the sun as an image, I could let it go--but mastiff?? Who ever even uses that *once* in their lifetime?

Also, he has a contemporary of Keats (I can't remember which one) use the word "tubercular" which didn't exist in Keats's day.

My favorite poem from the collection is only my favorite because it seems so unexpected and odd--it made me laugh in a kind of surprised ironic way. In this poem, James Rice is portrayed a homosexual in love with (and longing to kiss) Keats. I haven't looked very deeply into the life of James Rice, but it was my understanding that he was very much a heterosexual and only had a fellow-feeling for Keats. . .though who can read a man's thoughts? The perspective is interesting and engaging, but not factual. If I were to write a poem wherein one of Keats's male friends had a secret crush on him, I'd make Brown the man. We all know he was a misogynist and spent more than his fair share of time with harlots and chamber maids but in the Aileen Ward biography there is speculation about how close he felt to certain males--especially his nephews. (Anyway, I'll save that for the "Keats tabloid" section of the forum whenever that opens ;) )

Anyway, here's the poem about James Rice:

James Rice Dances The Night Away at a Ball

Women giggle that my steps lumber
like a miner drunk with the dark.
Keats says I dance like a deaf man.
Still, I love to battle the music,
turning waltz into polka or reel.
A man who pores over crumbling law books,
whose life is a long failing of health--
has to dance, to forget Brother Death
sits by his bedpost most mornings.
Let me live long enough, I shout,
to be of use to my friends:
Reynolds financially secure to afford a wife;
Keats guided past pike-hungry versifiers.

Trust none in the school of letters, I admonish him:
not Wordsworth, who sees genius only in his own mirror;
nor Hunt, who'd watch his daughters murdered
if the killers praised his latest poem
or pamphlet in an influential review;
nor Shelley, who'd donate his father's fortune
to any charity, but ignores the bills
put to him by honest tradesmen;
and never Byron, wh equates betrayals
with arrows of wit.

Oh, John, I'd save you from them all,
but I'm too weak from untangling estates,
from made dashes across the dance floor.
I can only marvel how great your poetry will b e,
and plunge through nights of treading
on lovelies who find my un-nimble soles
a joke played on marriage-age misses.

If I only had the courage to kiss you, John,
but you really do love the ladies so,
and men are imprisoned for what quakes
in me, while I make punful asides with girls,
my eyes never leaving the bold boys
circling the waxed floor, graceful as stags.
Stay Awake!
--Anthony deMello
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Re: Petitions for Immortality--A Review

Postby Saturn » Sun Feb 05, 2006 11:40 pm

Malia wrote:I bought the book because I thought it would be a unique addition to my Keats library (which, after counting them up the other night, amounts to 22 books).

:shock: and again :shock:

Are you sure you don't want to have MY job?

I've only got 5 Keats books - two different collections of the poems, The selected letters, and the Motion and Gittings biographies - I've never found any other books on Keats where I live though I've heard of many of the others you guys mention and seen titles in the bibliographies etc.

I feel really inadequate and unqualified now.

I'm not worthy :?

*Bows down in Wayne's World-type gesture*
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Postby hampsteadly » Tue Feb 14, 2006 8:59 pm

Thank you for mentioning this book. I have been an avid collector of Keats biographies and literature studies for many years and have a large collection to which I shall add this new work. If I were to itemise my collection would anybody be prompted to suggest missing but essential items and to point me towards their location. I live in England.
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Postby Saturn » Tue Feb 14, 2006 11:54 pm

Sure - just tell us what you have and we'll see what else you may not have.

Welcome to the forum too :D
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