“Entre deux mots, il faut choisir le moindre,”

Valéry once counselled. Prodigally, Eric Ormsby has spurned that advice, electing in many instances to use the ten-dollar word where the bargain one might do. For a Modest God, his first book published in the U.S. (two earlier, Canadian volumes are sampled in it), rings with an opulence of phrasing too rarely heard in our poetry. Ormsby’s deluxe style is sure to offend those who equate polysyllables with pompousness and full-throated melody with atavism. But for the antique rest of us, his poems afford the rare pleasure of listening to a polished yet deeply humane sensibility respond, in language of exhilarating verve, to whatever it seizes on or despairs of.

Take, for instance, this passage from “Gazing at Waves”:

The spectacle is sovereign,...


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