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Corn, Alfred (b. 1943)  
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The book is ambitiously structured around Dante's Commedia, using as its structure one hundred cantos divided into three parts and often alluding to both Dante and his themes and including some fine terza rima. Jay Parini in his review of the book remarks that the poem traces "the poet-hero's journey through an academic Inferno in Paris and New York made all the more intense by sexual confusions and longings."

One section from Notes . . . recounts the married couple's trip across country by car from New York to Oregon and a growing but vaguely felt anxiety and distance between the two. Corn's homosexual inclinations, both at the time of his marriage and after his divorce, are addressed casually. Corn reveals his sharp wit on this score in these lines, which follow right after the word "gay" (as in "happy"), as Corn speaks to Jones:

". . . [I] had just come out
From under six months of scarifying
Lovesickness (smiles, hugs, promises--he was
What I didn't then want to call a tease).
The case seemed to have escaped your notice.

After the divorce Corn writes, again with nonchalance, that both he and Jones were "snapped up by someone else / (Your new Victor . . . / My new Walter)."

In his later books, Corn addresses more frankly the themes of homosexual love and the domestic life, most poignantly in the poems "A Marriage of the Nineties" and "Insertion Arias" (both from Present). In the latter, the speaker talks to his lover as they listen to Mozart's arias after love-making:

Eyes closed, we let intentional sound sink in.
For a while, all we are is a voice
as it steps and glides over textured strings
made one harmonic flesh with woodwinds.
The music's pulse is hard to tell from ours,
and blind attention doubles what it hears.
Dancelike themes and pitched words
in an old language not by me always
translatable replace the "I love you"
we save for times we mean it to the bone.

In Contradictions, Corn furthers his frank exploration of life as a gay man in poems such as "My Last June in Chelsea" and "To a Lover Who is HIV-Positive." The latter begins "You ask what I feel," and answers:

Love; and a fear
that the so far implacable
cunning of a virus will smuggle away
substantial warmth, the face, the response
telling us who we are and might be.

In a review, Grace Schulman says that Corn's poetry "contains urgent lessons for our time: presence, care, visibility--all related, I think, in the code of this gay writer, to the wisdom of coming out." She also describes Corn as "one of our finest living poets . . . [who] makes bold new uses of classical and European influences."

Coupling the Personal to Broader Concerns

Although Corn is known for injecting autobiographical details into his poems, his work is not confessional verse. Rather, Corn couples the personal with historical, artistic, musical, and literary concerns. A perfect example of this weaving of different strains can be seen in "La Madeleine." The poem ends with a prayer on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene that poignantly recalls Kalstone and seeks a more general blessing on "the sick, the dying. / And those who watch at their side. Help us to dry our tears . . . ."

In his review of Stake: Selected Poems, 1972-1992 (1999), William Reichard describes Corn as "an obsessive cataloguer of the self." In the poem "A Call in the Midst of a Crowd," as well as in the books The West Door (1988) and Autobiographies, Corn himself explores the anxiety of writing about the self, turning life's details into art. In "A Call . . . ," the anxiety is faced head-on as the poet muses on the difficulty of sustaining "the doubtful subject of a self": "Trying to feel actual / in the absence of a human echo." The anxiety is soothed by the realization that "The word [is] its own gloss; though still, / I suppose, lit by me from within."

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