Leslie Monsour


From "Richard Wilbur’s Feats of Balance"
Anterooms: New Poems and Translations

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
ISBN 978-0547358116, USA $20.00

The Able Muse Review, Summer 2011

Ever since Mayflies appeared in 2000, just before Richard Wilbur’s eightieth birthday,
we have had The New Yorker to thank for debuting most of his latest verses, as he
unhurriedly completes them on the L.C. Smith typewriter he’s been using throughout
his long and celebrated career. It’s tempting to imagine something enchanted or
bewitched about that venerable machine, as if it were made from steel forged by a
mythical bolt of lightning, like Robert Redford’s bat in The Natural. No other poet is
able to perform more subtle and breathtaking feats of balance on the printed page.

From “Notes on Contemporary Formalism.” A Formal Feeling Comes; Poems in Form by Contemporary Women. Story Line Press, 1994:

I’ve found that I am a great fan of symmetry. I always have been. Symmetry is a natural phenomenon of life. It is not artificial. As a child, I loved to peer into both ends of a kaleidoscope and observe how one end was simply the trapped bits of colored glass lying in a heap. Up through the opposite end, I could see where the mirrors cut through the circle, reflecting and organizing the shapes into equal parts of color and light, transforming the formless mass into a symmetrical design of breathtaking beauty. (The most carefully made kaleidoscopes have the least noticeable mirrors. It’s the crudely made ones that diminish the effect by using thick, uneven, cheap reflectors. The same is true of poetic devices). Of course, in applying symmetry to poetic expression, the real trick is to come up with a design that also achieves clarity of meaning. It is my conclusion that formalist poets make a more conscious effort to be understood than their informal counterparts.

From Featured Poet Interview. Able Muse. Millennium Issue. September, 2000 (http:/​/​www.ablemuse.com/​2k/​lmonsour.htm):

Leslie: I’m going to go back to Frost again, who said “I’d as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down.” Frost was always quick to add that he truly meant “I’D as soon write...”, that he was speaking strictly for himself and not directing what other poets ought to do. He thought poets should write the way they want to write...as long as they’ve mastered the tools of their trade. I believe the same thing. I’ve often said, it’s possible to play tennis with the net down...anyone can do it; but I don’t think anyone should try it who hasn’t learned to play with a net. Some poets might say, “Poetry isn’t tennis.” I’d ask them, “What is it, then?” It’s as much tennis as anything else.

From “That slight uncertainty which makes us sure:” Lyric Grace and the Poetry of Richard Wilbur. Able Muse. The Symposium Issue. October, 2000 (http:/​/​www.ablemuse.com/​v3/​lmonsour-wilbur.htm):

Wilbur is a poet who seeks a balance in his subjects, an accommodation of mixed feelings. He is known for the ironic meditative lyric, what the Norton anthology calls, “the single perfect poem,” rather than the long narrative poem or extended dramatic sequence. A life-affirming philosophy, applied to poetry of refined compression and clarity, combined with metrical stanzas that rhyme, could, at a superficial glance, be mistaken for dogged optimism. Wilbur’s happiness, however, is far from simple. It has gravity; it can be almost somber.

From “Punished Happiness": Themes of Change and Loss in the Poetry of Edgar Bowers. Presented at U.C.L.A. April, 2003 (http:/​/​repositories.cdlib.org/​uclalib/​dsc/​bowers/​044/​):

Epicurus taught that dying and changing are the same activity, that everything is made of immortal atoms which can never be destroyed, only rearranged. Even dreams, emotions, thoughts, and the human soul are made of atoms, which disperse at death, and form new entities. Lucretius, the poet/​philosopher who kept Epicurean ideas alive in Roman Latin, wrote in The Nature of Things that death and change are commutually related:

...nature breaks up all things into their atoms;
no thing dies off to nothing,...
...For whatever changes and leaves its natural bounds
is instant death of that which was before.

These concepts must have seemed idealistic and innocent to Bowers, evidenced by the way he treats the subject of change. As “Amor Vincit Omnia” proceeds, change occurs with painful unwillingness, resulting in failure and disgrace.

From “The Art of Memory. My Visit with Rhina Espaillat.” Mezzo Cammin. Vol. 2, Issue 1, Summer, 2007 (http:/​/​www.mezzocammin.com/​iambic.php?vol=2007&iss=1&cat=criticism&page=criticism):

Back home, Rhina and I had time before dinner for a leisurely stroll around her neighborhood, during which we talked of many things. I remember Rhina telling me that justice is the only abstraction worth fighting for. When our conversation turned to writing, she said that, in the act of writing, the person inside us whose voice we hear is not so closely identified with the grownup, the wife, the mother; rather, it is closest to the child’s voice, the one that sees everything new. I told her how my notebooks are full of ideas and false starts. Her advice was to “mull it over before writing anything down. Have it well established in your head.” She also told me that “poems are made by the body and understood by the mind. Poems communicate through the senses. They are seductive.”

From Featured Poet Interview. The Chimaera, Issue 9, February 2009 (http:/​/​www.the-chimaera.com/​Feb2009/​ReviewsandInterviews/​MurphyInterviewwithLeslie.html):

Monsour: I think I began to sing as I learned to speak. This was probably my mother’s doing. She had a good voice, carried a tune well, and enjoyed bursting into song. I remember singing “Oh Susanna” and “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” from my playpen. In kindergarten we were taught “Flow Gently Sweet Afton,” which I think is the first time I had the physical sensation of beauty from a melody. The song-like quality you hear in some of my poems must be an unconscious influence of that pleasure.

Selected Works

Magazine article
This is the story of how Robert Frost discovered, to his dismay, that a group of his letters and manuscripts had been acquired by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California in 1923. The article describes some of the gems in the collection and Frost's repudiation of two of the poems attributed to him.
Critical Analysis & Biography
Bilingual edition of Richard Wilbur's poems, translated into Spanish by Rhina Espaillat. Introduction by Leslie Monsour.
Literary Criticism
This monograph contains critical and biographical essays as well as an interview with the writer/translator, Rhina Espaillat. "Fascinating. Not possible to put it down once you start reading." --Lewis Turco.
Academic paper
A thoughtful analysis by Jessica Su, exploring aspects of place and time in Leslie Monsour's poems.
Winner of the 2010 Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition. "Monsour captures time, place, and person with an ease and concision that are, quite simply, unforgettable." --Ned Balbo, Competition Judge
“These are some of the finest poems in contemporary literature.”
–Timothy Steele
A Selection of Excerpts

Quick Links