“Bookcase” and “bouquets.” “No sir, a” and “viscera.” “Beatles” and “meatless. “You’d have to look to Paul Muldoon to find a more outrageous end-rhymer than Kronen. Or a quieter one. Kronen works extensively in fixed (and some feral) forms, but his lines, like Muldoon’s, tend to be so metrically irregular and heavily enjambed that even the full rhymes barely register. It’s a deliberately subdued music, more for the mind than for the ear. “Splendor” is Kronen’s first book in 14 years, and every poem in it, one senses, had to earn its spot on the roster. He’s very good at choosing metaphors he can extend without hyperextending. Any poet could personify “Rocking Chairs from the Thirties,” but Kronen actually humanizes them: “Under a mocking wind, you’ll throw yourselves,/ dolorous and shamed Rockettes of the porch,/ into the old routine. …/ Should you kick high, something/ might give, who once welcomed flesh upon/ your flesh.” Kronen’s skill with the figurative allows him to borrow figures from familiar sources (the Old Testament, classical mythology), apply them to familiar subjects, and still produce something original.
— Eric McHenry, New York Times Book Review
Splendor — deeply mature and yet adventurous in thematics and technical mastery — suggests that Kronen has now, after a decade and a half [since the publication of his first book in 1992], consolidated and sharpened his strength so much that he bids fair to become one of the best living American poets….[ Splendor,] which marks Number 98 in the ongoing American Poets Continuum Series at BOA, honors both its publisher and the present and future state of American poetry.
–Richard Simpson, Tar River Poetry
Steve Kronen’s Splendor represents the mature work of a poet doubly gifted. There is the technical polish of the collection, demonstrating Kronen can write whatever his subjects require. And there is something rarer, a sentient sympathy that enables Kronen access to a wide range of things—relatives, seasons, zoological gardens, fellow writers, even Miss Havisham. I note with particular admiration “The World’s Deserts,” “River,” “Dreaming of Mexico, Ambrose Bierce, and Weldon Kees,” and “This Kingdom,” the last of these a moving poem written after the loss of Kronen’s father that displays a light touch with impeccable auditory control over a subject that causes many to stumble. Then there are the wonderfully witty treatments of one’s parents, oneself, one’s president. As page after page makes clear, this is a fully conceived, highly accomplished book that demonstrates the impressive range of a powerful talent.
Steve Kronen’s word wizardry not only provides a feast of formal patterns, but his poems are filled with passion and wit. He celebrates Thoreau in terza rima, mourns our “Perma–War” in a villanelle: “They’ll burn my crops and hoard my oil,” and invents a delicious fantasy of “Marianne Moore Late at Night” “…rifling the drawers// of the rich executives….” in Manhattan, then flying home to Brooklyn. ” There are “dolorous and shamed Rockettes of the porch,” in “Rocking Chairs from the Thirties,” and poignant “Our Home Movies,” contrasting the films of childhood birthdays with the film clips that captured the Kennedy assassination in Dallas where “…the Texas sun dazzles the chrome/ of their blue–black car …..Nothing will stop them, keep/ the hands from flying up…” Read it and weep, but rejoice in this long overdue, well–crafted book .
Steve Kronen’s life as loving husband and father is lived, in Splendor, against the backdrop of history, literature, and even eternity. He repeatedly surprises the reader, not with the cheap tricks of a writer who is only interested in surprise, but with the insights of someone who has thought his way past cleverness and other glittering falsenesses to wisdom itself, even if it is a provisional wisdom. Splendor is a splendid achievement.
In all the form poems (which comprise nearly the entire book) Kronen … keeps the images uncomplicated and the language straightforward…. For example, “Cleave” begins with the simple, familial image of the speaker’s young daughter “fighting sleep”; the language then shifts into almost impersonal, even scientific terminology:
and leans, corporeal now and weighty,
against my body the mass of her body
who, smaller than a missed period
at sentence end, multiplied to the myriad
(the atom cloven to produce a blast
to shake the earth cleaves to make a blast-
ocyst), accruing cell to self, as must a pearl…
And yet, despite the risk that this language takes — the fact that its technical nature could displace the reader from the situation, the hominess of the images of a baby daughter – the reader is not removed from the poetry because of Kronen’s evident ability to guide the poems where he chooses…. [His] language and formal rhymes and structures produce a sort of symbiosis that prevents the trap of sentimentality or forced emotion.
–Beth Hastings, The Florida Review