Thematically, Cantilena appropriates subjects familiar to the Modernist long poem: recent European and American history, art making, political corruption and the question of individual complicity, and the bearing of classical and religious heritages on the present. Cantilena is also one of our only major long poems so far to consistently engage climate change. Yet, for this reader at least, the work's chief power comes not from the positions it stakes out on these topics, but rather from its performance of a kind of imaginative magic - what Peck calls 'undersending.' This 'undersending' is carried out in three distinct arenas: historical vignettes, personal remembrances, and synchronicities snatched from a lifetime of reading. It is no exaggeration to say that the poem treats the dead, in Henry Vaughan's words, as 'alive and busie.' These stand-offs with ghosts inform the flux in the speaker's self, often caught between curiosity and terror: 'Though they only stand there, they came many miles, / and though you wait, you'll be the first to move.' -Nate Klug, 'Falling In: A Foreword'
Cantilena appropriates subjects familiar to the Modernist long poem: recent European and American history, art making, political corruption and the question of individual complicity, and the bearing of classical and religious heritages on the present. Cantilena is also one of our only major long poems so far to consistently engage climate change.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1941, John Peck earned his PhD at Stanford, where he studied with Yvor Winters and with the noted poet, critic, and Pound scholar Donald Davie, who was his advisor for his dissertation on Pound. Peck's allusive, musically nuanced poetry shows clear traces of Pound, though Peck's syntax is far more rounded and bridgelike than Pound's cantilevered structure, and Peck's ideas and metaphors tend to engage rather than insist. Peck writes primarily in free verse, though he does, in his words, "plait phonic elements across both accentual and syllabic grids." According to critic Robert Archambeau, "At a time when poetry seems dominated by the banalities of the backyard epiphany, on the one side, and by faux Gertrude Stein nonsense-verse on the other, learnedness is a welcome poetic virtue. This is especially true when it comes off less as pedantry than as a passion of mind, as in Peck's case." Archambeau goes on to call Peck "perhaps the most challenging-and one of the most rewarding-American poets of his generation." Peck won the Prix de Rome for his second poetry collection, The Broken Blockhouse Wall (1978), and then moved to Zurich, where he trained as an analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute. After more than a decade of publishing silence, Peck published three volumes of poetry in four years. Speaking to the relationship between his analytical work and his writing, Peck has said that "Jung's psychology has deepened my respect for the gap between framing an intuition in words and actually taking in what the larger personality would have one incorporate."