A brilliant little book. North proves by example that any quantitative category of qualitatively diverse units--movies, colors, diseases, etc.--can be subjected to the subtle yet ineluctable analysis of temperament that determines a baseball player's optimum position in the field and place in the batting order.
—Peter Schjeldahl, The Village Voice
The response to the poetry of Charles North's "Lineups" has been so huge that it might have been arranged by the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Which suggests that sublime looniness can help get us through anything, even Watergate.
—Larry Merchant, The New York Post
On LEAP YEAR: POEMS 1968-1978
A gorgeous book. Ultimately, the most refreshing thing about the works is how a wonderful sensibility shines through the experimentation, ingenuity, and abstract lyricism.
—Paul Violi, Poetry Project Newsletter
[North’s] joy in words, and the things words adumbrate, is infectious: we catch a contagion of enlightenment. To me, he is the most stimulating poet of his generation.
On THE YEAR OF THE OLIVE OIL
My motto for Charles North's poetry might be: You can't step into the same sentence twice…. Somehow North manages to fix this necessarily transient quality without violating its mercurial nature, and he does so precisely by concentrating on the essential paradox of what he's doing rather than by trying to evade it....I'd love to know how he manages to keep such beautifully mobile balance as everything keeps turning into something else.
—Barry Schwabsky, Poetry Project Newsletter
Like Keats's poems, North's are urbane but with just enough of the "Cockney" to be vital. The longest (such as "A Note on Labor Day") are so eloquent and passionately thoughtful as to remind one of Keats's longer poems, or perhaps Joseph Warton or William Cowper....North's poems are at once meditative and funny, sincere and sophisticated, pious and wiseass...among the best books of the decade.
—Gary Lenhart, American Book Review
North's wit, exuberance and unfailingly elegant syntax make him one of the most memorable of contemporary poets. The Year of the Olive Oil is a delight from beginning to end.
—John Ash, Washington Post Book World
On NO OTHER WAY: SELECTED PROSE
Nowhere will readers find literary criticism practiced with more sensitive insight, greater imaginative sympathy, more refined taste or acuter wit than in these essays. North’s own poetic standards are uncompromising and ambitious. Though understanding that “poets need to write badly, as well as middlingly and well, in order to produce the ‘highest thing,’” his loyalties never cause him to refrain from noting where even our most accomplished poets falter. Not only is this the richest and most suggestive study of the New York School, it is also a sustained defense of the intellectual beauty that animates their poems.
—Gary Lenhart, Poetry Project Newsletter
North is stunning in his depth of knowledge and understanding ….makes breathtaking connections between painting and poetry, and understands each in particular ways that are only possible because of these connections.
—Luther Hanson, Magill Book Reviews
On NEW AND SELECTED POEMS
As brave, conceptual and big-minded as Jack Spicer’s lifetime of conference calls with the underworld, North’s work constantly greets us with the deft presence of a mind devilishly enamored of improbable form and substantial ideation. His signature baseball “Lineups”; his architect’s notes poems (“Six Buildings”); as well as poems like “The Brooklynese Capital,” a list of anglo-saxon kennings (“The gravy sopper,” “The tongue motel,” “The George Washington Carver of boredom”) apply typical Northian tweak to the function of poetic form, with a result that resembles a Duchamp readymade more than a Pound sestina. One wants to patent these poems rather than sing them. North’s conceptual acumen is somewhat less hard-edged than that of his contemporary, Paul Violi, and there is a pervasive wistfulness and lyric rush that pervades even the most artificial of forms, as if blueprint ink was running from the draughtsman’s tears: “One must have breakfasted often on automobile primer / not to sense an occasional darkening in the weather joining art and life; / and have read Paradise Lost aloud many times in a Yiddish accent // not to wake up and feel the morning air as a collaborator / thrown from some bluer and more intelligent planet…” (“Note to Tony Towle”). And the gorgeous recent journal “Aug.—Dec. for Jimmy Schuyler” ends with this pair of elucidating quotations: “’The south west wind how pleasant in the face’—John Clare // ‘Basically, artists work out of rather stupid kinds of impulses and then the work is done’—Jasper Johns” Far from being a rehash, this 30-year retrospective is a genuine poetic find, the kind of book that should be rescued from the attic and put on display at the Museum of Natural History, next to the moonrocks and downstairs from the dioramas.
North’s sensitivity stands alone among the contemporary American “big city” poets…..Perhaps A.R. Ammons, and maybe Michael McClure, are trying poetries as radical, but all three of these writers have been doing so for a long time. Many poets respect what North is doing, but the big prizes and fellowships have avoided him, and reading this book one can see why. This is not the material of the American Poetry Series. These poems would sooner be the fragments of the poems in those types of books. Sometimes the fragment should be the poem, and we need poets like Charles North to remind of that. This generation of poets doesn’t have a Pound or Stevens or Williams to remind us of anything. I suspect in their heart of hearts, the writing of poetry is much more mysterious than most of us think (at least those of us who have been exposed to narrative poetry and little else, much less the difficulties in almost every poem by Charles North).
—John Jacob, American Poetry Review
On THE NEARNESS OF THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT
The challenge of writing about the sensual qualities of New York City, which seems so tired, by North’s pen becomes transcendent again. And that’s only one of the things his poetry accomplishes. He is witty when wit seems all but lost, gorgeous when gorgeousness is supposed to have crawled off to wherever Frank O’Hara’s odes came from. The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight is about as flawless a book of poetry as I have come across.
—Ange Mlinko, Poetry Project Newsletter
North is a younger compatriot of O’Hara and Ashbery, and his nonchalance aspiring to greatness finds the same “risks inside art” that the other New York School poets found in the city. Juggling a satiric self-consciousness with a “strange mischief,” North pulls death-defying propositions and playful mockeries from thin air.
North’s achievement, which is significant in contemporary poetry, is to be open to the endless range of life and to be so by using such a relaxed lyric line. North’s great appeal, and art, may lie in how gracefully he fuses complexity into the warmth of his everyday conversational idiom.
—Thomas Devaney, Philadelphia Inquirer
The business of examining exactly what one means is central to North’s concept of the role of the poet, and he is especially alert to the way particulars and ideas interact in our constructions of meaning…. [His] poetry is fashioned out of the multiple equations it establishes between aesthetic and existential dilemmas… The urge to hold out ‘particulars’ to the reader is mediated through an alert, sophisticated consciousness insistently aware of convention and genre.
—Mark Ford, PN Review (UK)
Cadenza continues [North’s] pursuit of what poetry can be. His poems are improbable and wholehearted engagements of a man’s imagination with life and language, which, here, are presented as harmonious entities. His work displays a particular ability to turn on a dime, yet also allows a beautiful poem such as “Romantic Note” to remain that. There’s nothing fussy here, just freestanding poems of original and exhilarating character.
—William Corbett, The Boston Phoenix
In Cadenza he moves in, around, and about everyday life with an improvisatory élan that soon becomes an almost familiar tune, sung to the friend you become every time you lend an ear. The direction is true North; the vintage just right.
The master of multitasking—all experience open to him at every moment—as well as a master tout court. He belongs on the summit of our American Parnassus.
The book's title poem is one of the great longer poems of the last decade. Akin to Ashbery's "The Skaters" in that it's a kind of entry into North's poetry. It's indeed a cadenza—"an elaborate flourish or showy solo passage, sometimes improvised, introduced near the end of an aria or a movement of a concerto." Except that it's the first poem in the book, so we already know we're in for something different. It's a discourse that opens up the fluid passage between the reader and the book, an argument for a certain approach to the creation and evaluation of art that still seems to be largely dismissed. Like Ashbery's poetry, it puts the classical and the contemporary on the same plane.
—Michael Schiavo, The Best American Poetry website
On COMPLETE LINEUPS
These witty and innovative poems set us up to notice more and more about the relationships between things….The readers play as well when reading these poems, finding exciting connections and associations through the trope of the book. The drawings by Paula North scattered throughout add to the playful depth of the collection.
—Journal of the Academy of American Poets, vol. 37 (Fall 2009)
North’s not only invent’d a form, he’s invent’d a form capable of containing the whole ballgame. One late (1997) lineup titled “A Midwinter Lineup” and construct’d of quotations—some lengthy—is convincing enough on that score. Catching, and batting eighth, is Gertrude Stein’s “I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it.” Perfect! And at third base, batting sixth, is Arthur Cravan’s “To think that, given that we exist, we do not laugh continuously.” (Which is delightful exactly the way North’s Complete Lineups is.)
—John Latta, Isola-di-Rifiuti blogspot
I couldn’t resist its charms. . . .The lineups North assembles, taking into account variables like speed for a lead-off hitter and power in the number four spot, make this baseball/poetry hybrid entertaining and surprisingly provocative.
—Robert Gray, shelf-awareness.com
On WHAT IT IS LIKE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS
This retrospective collection showcases the darting imagination and playfulness that have become the hallmarks of [North’s] poetry. Prose poems like “The Philosophy of New Jersey” and “Note on Fog” shine with clarity in North’s most iconic book, 2001’s The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight, where his longer poems reveal the intricate unfolding of his mind in real time: “I’m thinking of a noun,/ any noun. I picture it/ as hard rubber, darkly resinous/ the same family, roughly speaking, as Being-in-Itself.” Among the new poems, North makes some of his funniest, strangest, and most poignant statements when defending his art—”Erections are hard,” he writes in the sweet and clever “Poem Beginning with an Early Poem,” “Poetry is difficult.” . . . North stakes his claim as a poet for whom language is the romantic part.
—Publisher’s Weekly, Jan. 16, 2012
North is such an intelligent and good-humored writer that his literariness seems less a pose than an invitation. The poems here, including "Magic," are distinguished by their copiousness — their formal variety (sonnets to sestinas to diary entries) is matched by a tremendous range of tones and references (this is possibly the only poetry book to include a discussion of the philosopher Saul Kripke's notion of the "rigid designator"). North … understands and values his ideal reader as much as he values the poems from which that reader is inseparable.
—David Orr, “Truth and Beauty: 2011’s Best American Poetry,” NPR.org
[North] seems to delight in taking us with him into a perception and then giving it a twist, as with a knife or something. He makes thinking new by naturalizing it in what could be called still lifes of thought clusters sometimes; other times, his constructions are more on the scale of landscapes or even Asian landscape scrolls in their scope. Their focus, though, is the mind-and-body work we can get hold of in words. In his poems “what we feel” is the vertiginous physicality of getting a thought. . . . The forms and concepts used in What It Is Like have a quality of critical goodness of their own, with a subtle social edge, and seem to have come from a mind that is good enough to think of them.
—T.C. Marshall, galatearesurrection18.blogspot.com
What It Is Like surveys four decades of work by one of America’s most engaging experimental poets. The word “engaging” has old-fashioned connotations that much contemporary experiment seems to repudiate, particularly in its critique of the subjectivity associated with the tradition of lyric. North is fully aware of the modern critique of the subject, though his awareness registers not as a subscription to a program but as a restless—ironically subjective—desire. The first line in this book is “Now that I am seeing myself as a totally different person.” In a sense, this statement echoes Rimbaud’s famous proclamation, “I am an other” (je est un autre). But whereas Rimbaud’s proclamation is inseparably bound up with his desire to be a seer, for North the act of seeing remains separate from the “I.” The result is, on the one hand, an objectivity of image and, on the other hand, a modesty of tone that, taken together, make North’s poetry so engaging.
—Terence Diggory, Rain Taxi, Winter 2012/2013
North studied as a young man with Kenneth Koch and has much of his master’s humor, but he links it to a sensibility with a decidedly philosophical bent. Even in North’s wildest flights of abstraction, a detail from the natural world or a wry joke is likely to make an appearance, keeping the poem from floating off into some Platonic ideal. . . . North is one of the most challenging, amusing, and accomplished poets writing today.
—Reagan Upshaw, ablemuse.com, 2/22/13
[North’s] poems are as energizing as coffee, but they stimulate rather than suppress appetite. Reading them, you become hyperaware of what’s going on around and inside you, the weather, unspoken feelings, difficulty, and sudden ease. . . .This new New and Selected, North’s second, is sturdier than the previous version. While it has the benefit of twelve years’ more work, What It Is Like tells basically the same narrative: a hotshot kid, sublime technician of simile, ages beautifully into the role of maker of qualified remarks. But what similes they were, and what remarks now.
—Jordan Davis, The “Constant Critic,” 5/6/13. http://www.constantcritic.com/jordan_davis/what-it-is-like-new-and-selected-poems/
On STATES OF THE ART: SELECTED ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS AND OTHER PROSE 1975-2014
This is criticism at its best: passionate, sympathetic reading that acknowledges the poet's limitations while clarifying the particular strengths. You are not apt to read criticism this sensitive and analytical by well-known academic critics such as Helen Vendler or Marjorie Perloff, who can seem to be unduly motivated by a desire to control the narrative of what gets read and what gets ignored....The belles lettrist tradition in America, which dates back at least to Edgar Allan Poe, and includes such modern examples as Sadakichi Hartmann's writings on photography, Edwin Denby's dance reviews, John Ashbery's art criticism, James Baldwin's essays on race, Susan Stewart's essays on art, and James Agee's film criticism, is alive and well, and North's States of the Art proves it.
--John Yau, Hyperallergic, 2/24/18.
Pataphysics (Australia; Spring 2005); incorporated into “James Schuyler Page” at
Electronic Poetry Center, SUNY/Buffalo (2006)
Cross-Cultural Poetics (Evergreen State U., Washington), April 16, 2009,
archived at Electronic Poetry Center)
Poetry Project Newsletter, Feb.-Mar. 2001 (183)
Verse. vol. 20, Numbers 2 & 3 (2004)
11.5 Review Lit. Journal of Eugene Lang College, The New School (2012)