From the reviews of Lemon Peeled the Moment Before

"If Henry James had had a love child with Emily Dickinson,
you know the kid would have written like this."
Reagan Upshaw in BLOOMSBURY REVIEW, March/April 2009.
For the full review click here 

"seamless and shapely poems...An acute observer of the human condition...
this poet's diction is plain spoken, finding the elegant in the ordinary."
Elaine Sexton, from Ron Slate's website, "On the Seawall," March 29, 2010.
For full review click here 

From the reviews of Half/Mask

"Roger Mitchell's Half/Mask provides examples of three ways beyond cadences that poets today heighten the impact of the common language." Marion K. Stocking Beloit Poetry Journal For the full review click here

From the book jacket, Delicate Bait, 2003

"We want a book—be it a work of fiction or poetry—to remind us how varied and complex our experience of the world can be at times. And yet when we encounter such a book, we realize how rarely we come across one that fits that description and how astonishing it is when we do. Roger Mitchell's Delicate Bait is such a book. Not many poets now writing have as wide a range as he does, both in terms of subject matter and form. His poems are rich in detail, masterly in execution, and always a good read. He is savvy about the way we Americans live and try to make sense of our lives in this moment in history." 

—Charles Simic

From the reviews of Delicate Bait

"I've seen Mitchell's strong collection called The Word For Everything, his experiments with longer poems in Braid and shorter ones in Savage Baggage, and in each case have found a welcoming intelligence, at times an illuminating oddness, or perhaps it is a realistic vision of oddness in ordinary things.... There are levels of mastery that don't bang drums and raise a fuss. Mitchell is such a good writer, so unpretentiously devoted to alertness in words, that he leaves his readers more pleasure than exegetical work." 

—David Mason, Hudson Review

West Branch Review of Delicate Bait, Spring/Summer 2005

Like Elizabeth Bishop, with her extravagant, precisely textured similes, Mitchell uses description more to create reality, to give shape to the inner life, than to reflect it. Indeed, in what we might take as the thesis statement for this book, Mitchell writes in the poem "An Afternoon Walk," "If you must know something, says the tableau / of our days, you may have to make it up." We go to "the supreme fiction," according to Mitchell, not just for the hell of it, but as a means of inquiry.  In that inquiry, there is something of Milosz's "archive of existence," a rescuing of things ruined or lost and a reclaiming of people emblematized by these vanished objects.  Mitchell takes on shopping malls, a photograph of taxi dancer by Margaret Bourke-White, and a Museum of Local History, all in "plain American which cats and dogs can read," as Marianne Moore would say.  Click Here to view complete review

Karen Kovacik in West Branch


From the reviews of Savage Baggage

"Aside from the superior influences Mitchell has obviously absorbed and put to good use, he is an excellent craftsman in his own right." 

—Bob Grumman, American Book Review

"Mitchell has always been a poet of powerful wit, frequently so dry as to be detected by only the most sophisticated radar. His poems' wisdom is their reminder that there is nothing funny about a joke: jokes, like poems, are things we create out of the grave silence of wrestling with understanding. There are as few intellects as gentle as Roger Mitchell's. Between the amusing and the grave, husband and wife, between traveling and home, lie the synapses that fire the unforgettable verse of Savage Baggage." CLICK HERE for complete review.

—Dobby Gibson, Rain Taxi


From the reviews of Braid

"Language, in Braid, is its own reality, based on a wide range of human perceptions and varying senses, and we construct forms, however artificial and syllabic, based on them. These become the forms we use to make sense of the confusing narratives of our own lives." 

—Chris Fischbach, Rain Taxi

"Mitchell consistently has good, amateur sensing of the natural world, which is perfect for his and our purposes, because we want a poem, not scumbled John Muir. These are fine poems; the imagery holds his hearing of Keats and Pound and Paul Blackburn together, a rare virtuosity." 

—Andy Robbins, American Book Review

"The promise of alternative worlds is realized in Mitchell's sixth book, Braid...His response is to become a kind of poet as roving reporter and an entity both earth-bound and ether-bound, free to sweep in and out of various times and spaces, and often seeming to occupy the space, or chasm, between signifier and signified. Mitchell makes of the poem an open, and broken, field of words, culture, whimsy, serious thought, natural objects, as everything becomes part of a "wave passing through the sea/ dispersing energy and gill." CLICK HERE for complete review. 

—B.J. McGrath, The Spoon River Poetry Review


From the reviews of The Word For Everything

"This is Mitchell's fifth book, and in many ways it represents that most pleasurable instance when a poet's talent and vision truly fuse into something rare and powerful. Mitchell has long been one of our most gifted and underappreciated poets. What makes much of his work so memorable is the respect he has for language's slow workings...though Mitchell's poems are often memory narratives, they are as much about our need for narrative as they are about any particular subject matter; and they are quiet poems, never insisting on our attention. There are, however, few poets who deserve so much to be listened to and trusted.  Many of the poems in this collection are about the now (as in "the here and now") and the then (as in "back then"), through they never assume to propose what the then means to the now.  Rather, Mitchell's poems attempt to, and often brilliantly succeed at, rendering the intersection of memory and the living moment.  He has a love for the patina of mystery that encases details extracted from memory, and he uses the intermittent untethered phrase (as the novelist James Salter does in his famous verbless sentences) as a mimetic counterpart to the often contextless fragments we retrieve from memory's nonlinear narrative.  It's a stunning technique, and the resulting poems dramatize how "[w]e want to be where we are but we can't/quite find it" ("Segments of Spine").  Mitchell suggests that this foiled longing is a consequence of language, either its failure or ours.  These poems know that naming our world and our lives won't provide meaning, yet they are in love with the reckless desire that fuels such naming, the desire that makes poetry possible."

—James Harms, Antioch Review

"Mitchell's is an intellectually probing quest, and he tells us repeatedly that the work is ongoing. Sometimes the voice is so deadly serious it veers into wildly suggestive parable. Sometimes it is wistful. In either voice, I hear the note of bravery." 

—Elizabeth Dodd, Tar River Poetry

"Graveyards, police stations, steep rocks to be climbed, roads traveled in less-than-reliable cars. All help to create a darkly humored sense of exploration into places where things may or may not be as they always have seemed. Each poem is a world where the unexpected may happen at any moment." 

—B.J. McGrath, The Spoon River Poetry Review

"With a respectable, unpretentious mysticism that can be spooky at the same time it makes us think, Mitchell quiets down, waiting like a hunter for reality to slip between the dark leaves down to the stream for an unguarded moment of water. Bracing these lyric speculations are a fine lot of beautifully invoked images and tones of the natural world at the heart of darkness, reminiscent of Roethke and Merwin." 

Black Water Review


From the reviews of Clear Pond

"Roger Mitchell writes with a poet's eye for exact detail in his absorbing new book about his search for Israel Johnson—a ghostly presence who comes to haunt the reader as much as he did the author. Written with all the passion of an autobiography, Clear Pond might easily be thought of as a detective story in which the detective discovers himself at the center of a seeming crime. For the author's investigations lay bare the poet himself, Roger Mitchell, whose obsession becomes ours as well as his. It's a lovely book, richly layered and beautifully written."

 —Jay Parini

"At the age of 45, poet Mitchell decided to learn more about the place where he'd grown up, New York State's Adirondack region.  In his research, he found a name, place, and date in a diary: Israel Johnson had built a sawmill at Clear Pond in 1836.  Would it be possible to reconstruct this man's life and times?  In an intensive five-year search, Mitchell talked to historians and librarians; studied census reports, deed books and war records; traced family members and searched the National Archives.  We rejoice when, in 1986, he meets an 87-year-old great-grandson of Israel Johnson in the town of Adirondack.  A remarkable piece of historical detective work and an engaging story, Mitchell's account offers valuable information for others pursuing genealogical questions." 

Publisher's Weekly

"Clear Pond, which won the 1990 John Ben Snow Prize, is a biography, a memoir, and a work of history; it's also a completely original, quirky book that's great fun to read. Roger Mitchell—a widely published poet and professor at Indiana University—grew up in the Adirondacks, to which he returned to do research for a book of poetry.  For reasons he's never fully been able to fathom, he became obsessed with a man whose name he happened to come across in his research.  This man, Israel Johnson, had lived during the 1800s in the woods of upstate New York, and had, for one evening, entertained the party of men that had first climbed the highest mountain in New York state." CLICK HERE for complete review  

—Janice Eidus, East Bay Express

"This book is already a classic of Adirondack literature." 

—P.H. Malo

"Clear Pond explores an intriguing notion.  Reading about the history of the place where he grew up, Roger Mitchell stumbles on a name.  "A man.  An ordinary man, about whom nothing was known.  He was neither related to me nor alive in my lifetime...I found him in someone else's diary."  The man was Israel Johnson, Jr., the place was the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York, and Mitchell's long search for this stranger's history proves an odd yet appealing quest." CLICK HERE for complete review.

—John R. Alden, Philadelphia Inquirer


From the reviews of Adirondack

"Mitchell gives us a history of the Adirondacks, with the Indian languages, travelers' accounts, songs and dances, diaries, museum artifacts, and the poet's own deeply-rooted personal experience. It is a book that scholars will respect, poets will admire, and general readers who care about our wild history will cherish."  

—Marion K. Stocking, Beloit Poetry Journal

"Mitchell experiments with a variety of forms in Adirondack, mixing prose, narrative, and lyrical poetry and alternating line lengths.  Although mildly disconcerting, this does not detract from what he is trying to say.  Refreshingly, one is not aware of the poet himself speaking, except at the beginning when, in "How It Starts," he introduces the theme of discovery and finally, in "Deciding to Go On," its consequence, the internalization of what has been discovered.  In the end the imagined Adirondacks become more real than the actual.  "I'm back to the old stories, their facts rubbed smooth/with telling, the faces indistinct," writes Mitchell.  In "Of William Stillman (1828-1901)" he says

The wilderness dwindles (is gone really)
under the human needs for it, Stillman
one of the last to feel there, as if by reversion,
the hush of creation, world before man.

Mitchell's strongest poems are his dramatic monologues.  "Thomas Cole (1801-48) Talks About His Art" and "The Monologues of Verplanck Colvin" are notable for the way in which the narrators, artist and surveyor, view nature.  Thomas Cole speaks with a lyric grace:

I wanted spring, at dawn, the drops 
still clinging to the bursting foliage.
As though the earth had risen from the sea
just then, and shook itself, and shook again.
The deer would not be slaughtered, not today,
the druids in the distance raised their arms.
This was the world, as it was given us,
Romantic, I suppose, but still real. "

  —Alice Wolf Gilborn, Blueline

From the reviews of A Clear Space on a Cold Day

"Roger Mitchell, Director of the Indiana University Writer's Conference, presents good, listenable poems in his third collection.  His poetry goes down smooth, is always interesting, as in 'Visiting Country Graves with My Daughters' when

we drift
apart, calling the names of strangers, back
and forth, the day they came, the day they left.

The first lines of "Cinderella" ("When they found her prostrate in the garden,
talking to a beetle, they locked her in the loft") demonstrate how well Mitchell catches the reader's attention."
CLICK HERE for complete review. 

—Dick Allen, American Book Review


From the reviews of Moving

"It is a rarer thing than we imagine to call a spade a spade and in doing so find enough interesting things to say about said spade to make the reader happy. And what is surprising is how many of the grand topics Moving handles in this way."

—Kathleen Wiegner, American Poetry Review


From the reviews of Letters from Siberia and Other Poems

"Not only is there marked facility in poetic form, and discipline of
line and image, but most importantly the poet's soul shows through. It is one of deep commitment to humanity in its sufferings and injustices, which in
powerful understatement probes the reader's inner self....Surely Roger
Mitchell's book should find a place among the best of contemporary writing."

Milwaukee Journal


Additional Criticism

From The MacGuffin, Fall 2002:

His poems "seem to have been written by a landscape artist, an inhabiter of vacant scenes that imbue the person who happens upon them with a sudden awareness of the universe, of 'God's unshaven face,' as one poem puts it. Consummately crafted, modest in size, sharp in perception, the poems offer a windy world of images and landscapes touched by human beings, but which question human influences through an examination of the frail relics of civilization, like tables left outside, or empty piers, or boarded-up hotels." —Molly Peacock