NEW YORK, May 3, 2017 — The Society of Classical Poets, America’s most important publishing venue of formalist poetry, has just released a review declaring Joseph Charles MacKenzie a “major poet” and his Sonnets for Christ the King “major poetry.”
The review was composed by James Sale, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (London), a British critic, poet, and author of seven collections among his over thirty books in all. Mr. Sale’s writings have appeared in both the United States (The Anglo Theological Review, Society of Classical Poets, etc.) as well as in his native Britain.
Contrasting MacKenzie’s Sonnets for Christ the King with today’soften unreadable devotional verse, Sale states that MacKenzie’s profoundly Christian sonnets are “true poetry because bound up in it is the emotional resonance by which real poetry disarms the critical intellect.”
Sale contrasts MacKenzie’s work with the unpopular modernist poetery of the academic establishment. The review is therefore a foundational text of the new formalist movement spearheaded by New York editor Evan Mantyk who first published MacKenzie’s recent poems. Sale continues:
We are so used to post-modern poets writing cryptogrammatic verse with obscure imagery, recondite diction, and indulgent, complacent solipsism that we can hardly believe it when someone says clearly what they want to say and tells it like it is—at least like it is for them. But the beauty of this great poetry is, even if we don’t agree, don’t share his theology, the poet in him gets to us emotionally. There are simply so many wonderful lines and ideas in this collection.
Sale recognizes that the Sonnets for Christ the King are a veritable sequence, as opposed to a mere collection of poems. The distinction is significant, as it establishes for future scholars a just evaluation of the work’s internal unity—sparing generations to come the kind of debates that surround Shakespeare’s sonnets. Sales observes:
So there is in Mackenzie’s work not a random rag-bag of poems but an architecture—a cosmos if you will—that attempts to reflect the bigger cosmos of which we are all a part.
More than a review, the penetrating piece offers many oblique lessons in the art of poetics via the meticulous analysis of MacKenzie’s sonnets. Sale possesses a clear, infallible understanding of the unique features of the English sonnet for which his own country is renowned.
The choice of Shakespearean sonnet form is perfect for dialectics: thesis, antithesis, with a structural concluding couplet often providing the explosive, unexpected and illuminating synthesis.
Sale demonstrates, with unimpeachable acumen, that it is precisely MacKenzie’s fidelity to the Shakespearean sonnet’s unchanging form that produces the enigmatic power of the Sonnets for Christ the King—a power arising from what Sale calls “MacKenzie’s attitude to the Christian story…the nearest approximation we can get to ‘truth’.”