Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place

Publication Year



Eric L. Ormsby, Ph.D. 1981

Fine Incisions is a collection of twenty-four gracious, intelligent and occasionally fractious essays, wide-ranging in their interests and rigorous in their analyses. Ormsby’s reverence for language is luminously clear as he examines his international travels, the work of James Merrill, the state of North American literary criticism and more in a series of essays as vivacious as they are provocative.



Shadow Language: Foreign Accents in English Poetry
Passionate Syntax (William Butler Yeats)
The King of Never-To-Be (Walter De la Mare)
Butterfly on a Wheel (Bob Dylan)
Gilded Totems (James Merrill)
Mosquitoes in Eden (Richard Outram)
Ultimate Distillations (Daryl Hine)
Ancient Chills (Elizabeth Bishop)
An Austere Opulence (Geoffrey Hill)

Fine Incisions: Reflections on Reviewing

Delousing the Soul (J.-K. Huysmans)
The House in his Mind (William Maxwell)
Secret Lightning-Flashes (Leo Tolstoy)
The View from a Falling House (Katherine Anne Porter)
The Disaster Parade (Richard Yates)

Waiting for the Grammarians (C. P. Cavafy)
Ambitious Diminutives (La Fontaine)

Prague of a Hundred Towers
Two Letters from Prague:
Nostalgia for Bad Times (1999)
Waiting for the Golden Pig (2004)

Fabulous Cities
In Search of al-Majâtî
The Happiest Man in Morocco

The Born Schoolmaster (S. D. Goitein)


 “... Ormsby is one of the two or three best English-language poets we [Canada] can fairly lay claim to. A fact that should be recognized someday.”—Alex Good & Steven W. Beattie, The Afterword

 “A review like this one can only brush the surface of a collection so rich. And it’s simply impossible to praise it sufficiently. Its rare erudition and worldliness provide perfect ballast for the chiseled sentences of the essays, which flicker and snap with the energy of live wires. Ormsby borrows his title from a poem by Emily Dickinson, and does her honor in these essays that have the penetration of literal incisions, openings that cut deep into mystery, opening it to reveal all its shining interior.”—Roger Sauls, Rover Arts

“Culture is not something so easily broken down. Fine Incisions is a study of literature and culture from Eric Ormsby, as he discusses North American Literary criticism and hopes to challenge it to rise to the challenge, as he mixes in memoir with his own studies of culture, language, literature, and so much more. A poet by trade, Ormsby’s writing is sure to draw readers in, and his stories and discussions will resonate with any, critic and non-critic alike. Fine Incisions is a strong addition to any literary criticism collection, enthusiastically recommended.”—Mary Cowper, Midwest Book Review


Porcupine's Quill
Erin, Ont.