Laura Riding’s Sweet Irony

I keep the lovely Persea Books edition of Riding's Poems on a shelf near my desk. I've never made a systematic go at it, but I take it down regularly & read a couple of poems. I identify with Riding's reticence. And her subtle, subversive irony:
AS TO A FRONTISPIECE If you will choose the portrait, I will write the work accordingly. A German countenance I could dilate on lengthily, Punctilio and passion blending To that slow national degree. Or, if you wish more brevity And have the face in mind -- A tidy creature, perhaps American -- I could provide a facile text, The portrait being like enough To stand for anyone. But if you can't make up your mind What poetry should look like, What name to call for, I think I have the very thing If you can read without a picture And postpone the frontispiece till later. That is, as you may guess, I have a work but, I regret, No preliminary portrait. Yet, if you can forgo one, We may between us illustrate This subsequent identity.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.