Reflections on Espionage

The Question of Cupcake

John Hollander; With a new Introduction and Annotations by the author

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November 10, 1999
104 pages, 5 1/2 x 9
ISBN: 9780300079661
Paper

This book-length poem by one of the major poets of our era is structured as a series of messages transmitted by a master spy to the director of spy operations and to a number of his fellow spies. The spy speaks of his own alienation and sense of purposelessness as a secret agent—a metaphor for a human existence committed to ordering, deciphering, and making sense of a world of random signs. First published in 1974, the book is now reprinted with a substantial introduction by the author that elaborates on the genesis of the poem, the literary figures who inspired some of the characters, the poem’s reception, and other matters.

Reviews of the earlier edition:

“These poems can be read and admired for their fluidity, their wonderful diversity of significance. . . . Many delights.”—Richard Poirier, Los Angeles Times

“Hollander’s arch and subtle long poem allegorizes the mirror closeness between raveller and unraveller.”—George Steiner, New Yorker

“Hollander explores with wit and virtuosity the pleasures of poetry (encipherment) and the trials of the workaday world (one’s ‘cover.’) . . . A rich, intelligent poem . . . a special pleasure for those with an ear for allusions, parodies, and puns.”—Library Journal

John Hollander, Sterling Professor of English at Yale University, is the author or editor of numerous books of poetry and literary criticism.

“These poems can be read and admired for their fluidity, their wonderful diversity of significance. . . . Many delights.”—Richard Poirier, Los Angeles Times


“Hollander’s arch and subtle long poem allegorizes the mirror closeness between raveller and unraveller.”—George Steiner, New Yorker


“Hollander explores with wit and virtuosity the pleasures of poetry (encipherment) and the trials of the workaday world (one’s ‘cover.’) . . . A rich, intelligent poem . . . a special pleasure for those with an ear for allusions, parodies, and puns.”—Library Journal

“The poem is a treasure. One treasures it for Cupcake’s wisdom about the work, and for the window it gives us into the unfolding story of Hollander’s larger body of poetry, in which it constitutes, if not a major poem, then a major minor poem, a text one cannot do without. One treasures it for its reinvention of the idea of secrecy. And one treasures it for its haunting, all-but-unique way of fictionalizing a poetic community—an altogether inconvenient little republic with an alarming memory—of whose civil conversations the poem is a metaphysical courtesy manual, an elegy and song of praise.”—Kenneth Gross, Raritan

Melodious Guile
Fictive Pattern in Poetic Language

John Hollander

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