The Clerk’s Tale
The poems of The Clerk’s Tale strive after fineness, but the heft of these cathedral tunes is unfortunately the sort that oppresses. While Reece’s project is interesting and laudable—to train the vines of life in Florida and other American confines on a graceful filigree of Italianate aestheticism—the book as a whole does not make good on the potential energies of its antithetical premise, largely because there’s too much fine, not enough Florida.
This effort is evident from the cover on. The volume is surmounted by a Sargent portrait of a young man being swallowed by an outsized, sumptuous dressing gown. The obverse proffers anonymous praise of Reece’s ‘exquisite restraint,’ set against the heroic boast that the lengthy title poem once occupied the “entire back page” of The New Yorker. Inside, we find titles emblazoned with fineness: ‘Portofino,’ ‘Chiaroscuro,’ ‘Diminuendo,’ ‘Etude,’ ‘Interlude,’ etc. The poems themselves celebrate lost houses, persons, and even dogs, lost Italy, evenings, and Autumns, all delivered with so much underscored ‘restraint’ that the resulting poems are frequently not only overblown but vague, the greater sin against poetry.
The title poem, for example, beloved of both The New Yorker and Bakeless judge Louise Gl