Thursday, April 20, 2017

Finds: Modern Poetry (c. 1938)

We were up in Orewa on Tuesday, enjoying the nice weather and trying to persuade ourselves that we were still on holiday. Part of the celebrations always include looking through any vintage and op shops that happen to present themselves: in this case the local Hospice Shop.

The more glamorous books were all up on the shelves, but there was a scruffy old sack labelled 'classics' to one side of them, and this is the one treasure I found in there, among all the old hymnbooks and school editions of Shakespeare and Wordsworth.

The dustjacket was a bit ripped, but the book was otherwise in fairly good nick, perhaps because it had once belonged to the Vice Consul of the United States, a certain Clarence J. McIntosh (he'd signed his name inside, as well as using an official stamp). It cost me one dollar.

So what's the attraction of this ancient, outmoded anthology of 'Modern Poetry'? it does, to be sure, constitute a kind of survey of how the field looked in 1938, but why should that be of any particular interest?

Don't you just love that little picture of 'Random House' itself? There's a reassuring solidity about their books, as if they come from a world which still - however vaguely - made sense. It was, after all, 1938.

Here's what the blurb has to say:
The dominant note of this collection of modern poetry is excitement. Here all the rules of the conventional anthology are abandoned and the chief emphasis is given to the dynamic quality and content of present-day verse. Representative poems by the greatest epic and lyric poets of the past twenty-five years in America and England are included, as well as folk-songs of the Negro, acid light verse, modern humor and satire, choruses from the experimental theatre, and even the sound-track of the pioneer movies. The result is an anthology of extraordinary vigor.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? And the editor himself, Selden Rodman, appears to have had an interesting time of it - judging by his wikipedia page, at any rate. He only died in 2002, having written a whole slew of books about Haiti, Latin America, poetry, and a range of other subjects.

Look again at that list of 'representative' poets on the cover, though:

Robinson Jeffers -- T. S. Eliot -- Edna St. Vincent Millay -- James Joyce -- Stephen Spender -- W. H. Auden -- D. H. Lawrence -- Robert Frost -- Hart Crane -- Dorothy Parker -- Paul Engle -- Vachel Lindsay -- Ezra Pound -- Carl Sandburg -- C. Day Lewis -- Archibald MacLeish -- Kenneth Fearing -- Stephen Vincent Benét -- Elinor Wylie -- John Masefield -- A. E. Housman -- Amy Lowell -- Josephine Johnson -- Bartolomeo Vanzetti -- William Butler Yeats -- Edwin Arlington Robinson -- Malcolm Cowley -- Horace Gregory -- Frederic Prokosch -- E. E. Cummings -- Wilfred Owen -- William Rose Benét -- Muriel Rukeyser -- Louis MacNeice -- Wallace Stevens -- AND OTHERS
Among the 'others' included in the anthology but not mentioned on the cover are: Marianne Moore (with two poems], and William Carlos Williams (with one). Imagine not mentioning either of those two today!

All the British 'MacSpaunday poets' are there: Auden, Spender, MacNeice and Day Lewis, but not Hugh MacDiarmid (one poem) or Roy Campbell (also one).

There is one New Zealander - or sort of: Lola Ridge (one poem). No Australians or Canadians have managed to sneak in, however.

Christiana Spens: Lola Ridge (2014)

That's no great insult, though - of the other Americans included, but not mentioned on the cover, we have Conrad Aiken, Edgar Lee Masters, John Crowe Ransom, and Allen Tate. Delmore Schwartz is the only one of the younger generation of poets who would come of age in the 40s (Robert Lowell, Robert Penn Warren, Kenneth Rexroth) to make it in.

I guess the real fascination for me is all those 'big names' (at the time) who have fallen almost entirely out of favour. The Benét brothers, Stephen and William, for instance - not to mention the latter's wife Eliinor Wylie. More of her later. That craggy old misanthrope Robinson Jeffers - the almost equally gloomy East Coast equivalent Edwin Arlington Robinson. My old friend John Masefield. Edna St. Vincent Millay (though she does seem to be making a bit of a comeback these days). Kenneth Fearing (who he?). What on earth is Vanzetti (of Sacco & Vanzetti fame) doing there?

I have a great affection for a number of these poets. Considerations of abstract merit - let alone 'importance' - seldom enter into my desultory poetry reading. I do love a long verse narrative, and a lot of these poets specialised in them.

In fact, so much did I enjoy reading the two Elinor Wylie poems included in here - I'd heard of her, but not really read her before - that I've gone off and ordered her collected poems and collected prose - she wrote novels as well, it appears - on! If that isn't Quixotic, I don't know what is.

Anyway, here's a more-or-less complete list of the entire table of contents (I couldn't be bothered writing out all of the titles of the poems included, but the actual authors are all here):
Part One

Marianne Moore, 'Poetry'
Thomas Hardy, 'Afterwards'
Lewis Carroll, 'Jabberwocky'
John Masefield, 'from Reynard the Fox'
A.E. Housman, [3 poems]
Walter De La Mare, 'The Listeners'
Robert Bridges, "Johannes Milton, Senex'
Rupert Brooke, [2 poems]
Elinor Wylie, 'Wild Peaches' & 'Castilian'
Edna St. Vincent Millay, 'Moriturus'
Robinson Jeffers, [3 poems]
James Joyce, 'I Hear an Army Charging upon the Land'
Dorothy Parker, [2 Poems]
Marianne Moore, 'The Monkeys'
D.H. Lawrence, [3 poems]
Arthur Guiterman, 'On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness'
Gerard Manley Hopkins, [4 poems]
Amy Lowell, 'Little Ivory Figures Pulled with String'
W.B. Yeats, [5 poems]

Part Two

Carl Sandburg, 'Who Can Make a Poem of the Depths of Weariness'
A Group of Negro Songs [8 poems]
W. C. Handy, [2 poems]
Edwin Markham, 'The Man with the Hoe'
Sarah N. Cleghorn, [2 poems]
Edgar Lee Masters, [3 poems]
Edwin Arlington Robinson, [3 poems]
Robert Frost, 'Two Tramps in Mud Time' & 'The Fear'
Vachel Lindsay, [6 poems]
William Rose Benét, 'Jesse James'
Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 'Last Speech to the Court'
Malcolm Cowley, [2 poems]
Lola Ridge, 'The Legion of Iron'
Stephen Vincent Benét, [2 poems]
Josephine W. Johnson, 'Final Autumn'
Roy Campbell, 'The Serf'
Paul Engle, 'from America Remembers'
Pare Lorentz, 'from The River'
Carl Sandburg, [4 poems]

Part Three

Archibald MacLeish, 'A Poem Should Be Palpable and Mute'
Ezra Pound, [3 poems]
E.E. Cummings, [5 poems]
T.S. Eliot, [4 poems]
Walter James Turner, 'In Time like Glass'
Wallace Stevens, 'Peter Quince at the Clavier' & 'The Mechanical Optimist'
Hart Crane, [6 poems]
John Crowe Ransom, 'Here Lies a Lady'
Conrad Aiken, 'Prelude LXI'
Allen Tate, 'Idiot'
James Palmer Wade, 'A Hymn to No One Body'
Archibald Fleming, [2 poems]
Horace Gregory, [2 poems]
E. B. White, 'I Paint What I See'
Frederic Prokosch, 'The Conspirators'
Archibald MacLeish, [6 poems]

Part Four

Kenneth Fearing, 'These Are the Live'
Wilfred Owen, [7 poems]
Kenneth Fearing, 'Dirge'
Louis MacNeice, [2 poems]
C. Day Lewis, [2 poems]
James Agee, [2 poems]
William Stephens, [2 poems]
Ogden Nash, [3 poems]
Stephen Spender, [5 poems]
William Carlos Williams, 'The Yachts'
Eunice Clark, [2 poems]
Alfred Hayes, 'The Death of the Craneman'
Selden Rodman, [2 poems]
W.H. Auden, [6 poems]
Edwin Rolfe, 'Definition'
Oscar Williams, [2 poems]
S. Funaroff, 'Of My Deep Hunger'
Hugh MacDiarmid, [2 poems]
Delmore Schwartz, 'For One Who Would Not Take His Life in His Hands'
Muriel Rukeyser, [6 poems]
One of the most fascinating things about this list is to compare it with the contents of the second, postwar (1946), edition of the anthology. There were a lot of additions (as well as a few subtractions - Rupert Brooke has gone, but then so has Wilfred Owen). Here are the newbies:
Robert Graves -- Louise Bogan -- Siegfried Sassoon -- Kay Boyle -- Thomas Wolfe -- Reuel Denney -- Babette Deutsch -- Mark Van Doren -- Edith Sitwell -- Jean Garrigue -- Ruth Pitter -- John Peale Bishop -- Edmund Wilson -- Robert Penn Warren -- John Wheelwright -- R. P. Blackmur -- Kenneth Rexroth -- William Empson -- Jose Garcia Villa -- Robert Fitzgerald -- Kenneth Patchen -- Dylan Thomas -- George Barker -- Dunsten Thompson -- Ralph Gustafson -- Lawrence Durrell -- Roy Fuller -- Ruth Herschberger -- William Abrahams -- Sagittarius -- Laurie Lee -- William Meredith -- Randall Jarrell -- Hubert Creekmore -- Alun Lewis -- John Manifold -- Sidney Keyes -- John Betjeman -- Robert Lowell -- Demetrios Capetanakis -- Thomas Merton -- Karl Shapiro
One thing you can't fault Rodman on is his industry. He was determined to keep up. His prescience in selecting Robert Lowell and Thomas Merton among the new American poets is impressive. For the rest, his selection of WWII poets (Alun Lewis, Sidney Keyes) isn't bad, considering how little time there had been to process the verse of the war years. No Dylan Thomas, no Keith Douglas, but I suspect that just shows that it took a bit of time for their merits to filter through.

Elinor Wylie (1922)

Rodman attempts some knotty questions - 'Is Modern Poetry Difficult?' - in his preface (as well as 'What Makes it Obscure?' and 'Does Propaganda cancel It?') All in all, there's a pleasing New Deal optimism about his view of the future:
Our younger poets have taken the first step. They are beginning, as I believe the last part of this anthology will indicate, to fuse the naturalistic and symbolic in a new synthesis. They know that neither science nor sociology can be rejected. (45)
Well, bully for them! He goes on to explain that:
Poetry is the greatest of the arts because everyone can - and does - practise it. The ad-man and the gag-man, the housewife and the corner-grocer are latent poets.
But then he goes and spoils it all by saying, in his next sentence: 'Especially is the poetry of Carl Sandburg great for this reason.' Hmmm. Dunno about that. Rodman's touching faith in this idea of recording 'the poetry in the common speech, attitudes and aspirations of the people' culminates in his claim that:
That is why we have the paradox of the most original and indigenous American art in the anonymous outpourings of the oppressed Negro. That is why I have included the words of some of their songs. (45-46)
I guess our alarm bells may be ringing at this point in his argument. There's something so smug and patronising about that use of the word "outpourings' rather than simply 'songs' (or 'poems', for that matter). For its time, though, I think this decision of Rodman's was a brave one. It certainly attracted a good deal of attention, and (as it turned out) was the beginning of a lifetime's interest in the folk art of the Caribbean and elsewhere.

The question of tone when one is exploring the polemical writing of the past is a tricky one. On the one hand he clearly distinguishes these 'outpourings' from the consciously crafted poems of the other authors - there is no Langston Hughes in either the 1938 or 1946 versions of his anthology, for instance.

On the other hand, there's little doubt that Rodman is sincerely moved, and sincerely admiring of these great songs - as indeed we are today - so perhaps we can cut him a bit of slack, and try and avoid what E. P. Thompson once called the 'enormous condescension of posterity.'

All in all, pretty good value for one buck, I'd say!

Selden Rodman: The Miracle of Haitian Art (1974)


Richard said...

A great find Jack! I do find some good things in op shops but his takes the cake I think. I have to disagree a bit. I like Robinson Jeffers a lot. I know he is not thought of as PC but it is that which gets in the way, for example, of appreciating not only T S Eliot but Celine and others.

But I agree re Alun Lewis who I discovered in a book shop. Scott did about the same time. Also Keith Douglas.

But there are some great poets / writers in there. I still don't think there are any major Afro-American poets comparable to Moore, Stevens, Eliot, Pound etc but there are some great prose writers. Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison are two outstanding examples. In any case of course, considering the date of the book, the editor was doing a great job and went on to do more.

I don't know about Caribbean writers although I suppose Naipaul is from there altho he is Indian.

Thomas Merton keeps getting mentioned. His father was born in NZ. Ted and I found the cause of his death rather bizarre, comic even, although it was tragic as he died relatively young. (I forget which writer I like he was associated with at one stage it might have been one of the Southern US "Gothic" writers.

The woman writer that caught your interest (as a writer) looks a very beautiful woman.

I had an anthology of US poetry with a CD and it had Louise Bogan and others in. Her poem was very good. I also had a more contemporary (this century) example which had some great poets.

But certainly a great find. As I say I also am on the look out and THAT area of a Hospice shop (I was in one in Ellerslie today but nothing doing) is where I would certainly look close, of course. As a collector or collator as opposed a little to a "proper" specialist collector, I am envious, as I would have added it to my
amassment! No question of reading the books in many cases (a little of all and all of some and of many only a cursory engagement); who said one had to read everything, or anything: the books with a bit of reading, are themselves surely testament to the what, the fine madness, or in my case a kind of febrile need, almost a panic, certainly an obsession, to have these things (perhaps in the absence of other things or something Freudian or whatever), to have and to possess, to admire and use if the occasion arises? There is an element of fetishism I suppose but it is what I like: I also like being surrounded by books of many kinds and subject areas.

Well as a fellow bookologist, congratulations!

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

I have a very beautiful edition of Robinson Jeffers' selected poems, also Random House, of more or less the same vintage as this anthology. I haven't read much of his work, alas (as yet), so am mainly going on what other people say by calling him a misanthrope. Perhaps I should give him another go, though.

Yes, I know about Merton: he died trying to change a lightbulb in a Bangkok hostel, having just left the Trappist monastery he'd been living in for decades for good, right at the beginning of the big OE he'd been pining for all those years -- terribly bad luck, really.

I must put something in about it in that work you've just claimed (on facebook) that I'm writing called 'ISBN' ...

best, jack

Richard said...

I possibly over stated the case. But he intrigues me. H ebuiot a tower on the West Coast. (He may well have been a bastard!) I read a few of his poems a few years back. There are so many poets though, so also my view of poetry is (as is everyone's) limited. I thought I had a book by him. I've seen his works. But I read him and Bogan and a number of the other poets in an anthology which has a CD. As I say there was also a very interesting one of more recent poets. Another useful guide for me was Sarah Blooms book of English, Welsh and Scottish poetry. Did she cover Ireland? I think she had to limit her scope but that book is a good introduction to UK poets.

I recall in Jeffers a line something about the Pacific ocean being like a gigantic eye, and I read a long poem about corralling some horses.

It would be amusing if I had hit the button and you had provisionally titled your magnum opus ISBN but you had better patent it quickly! Perhaps have it so you could change to ISBN? or ISBNN or whatever...But who could forget ISBN....

(Potential borrower or buyer goes into a library or bookshop and inquires after a book.)

"I'm looking for...a book, a vast, massive book-tome bigger than Proust's or Foster Wallace or any of those an old (but brilliant) eccentric in Mairang I think he was, where's Mairang? I'm from the US and I heard of your great writer Rossi...What might it be called? Aww, bother..." "It might help if you had a bit more information, but I'm searching now, I wont put in the ISBN number of course." "Of course! ISBN!" "What do you mean, ISBN?" "That's it, ISBN, it's called ISBN." "Surely not, only a mad person would call a book ISBN."

It is terrible about Merton, I saw a photo of him and Flannery O'Connor as well as Koester, what their connection is or was I don't know. (Religion?) But I wondered if Merton road near where I live had any any case his name kept coming up after that, I have read very little about him and nothing by him except what I saw in my much thumbed and terribly battered "Chamber's Biographical Dictionary".

Ted and I, for our sins, couldn't help laughing at the way he died. It seemed such an absurd way to die...thinking of it though I spent years hearing Electrical accident details and doing courses on safety, CPR etc, and there were some really bizarre accidents. Many quite tragic of course. Our hilarity was perhaps because of this reality of death I suppose. And he seemed to have been a good man in his intentions and quite some writer, again courtesy of Wikipedia and the "Images".

But as a fellow if not equal bookaphile, I have to congratulate you again on your find.

Do you remember I sold you that small, but I thought rather intriguing de Nerval in French? (Was it de Nerval?) I was in an op shop and someone said just as I approached the counter:

"Who would want something like this?" And I asked for it and paid for it.... It was one of those mystical-Romantic French writers: I'm pretty sure it was de Nerval.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Yes, I do remember. It's a beautiful little book. I'm very fond of Nerval's work, having worked my way right through his huge, strange Voyage en Orient ... Eliot quotes from his 'El Desdichado' sonnet in the Waste Land, of course: 'le prince d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie'.

Richard said...

I first got obsessed with Eliot's Waste Land in about 1968. I saw the quotes and that was when I decided to try to get as learned as Eliot. As I had done Chemistry and not French, although I did Latin, it was going to be a big catch up. It didn't occur to me that I would ever be able to read any language but English. [I did though read Les Miserables, The Hunchback and quite a lot of Du Maupassant before I was 20] But at the time I saw the list of quotes and later caught up with most of them (I even read a bit about the Hindu and Buddhist religion in 68, but later read most of the plays he refers to. That line I didn't realize was by de Nerval was deeply haunting and just right. I knew he had Spenser, Shakespear (Hamlet, Cleopatra, The Tempest etc), Wagner, some St Aquinas, Dante (so I got in the 1968 days a translation of Dante's large poem which I did like). Over the years I kept finding more [not that it is so important to know it is more of a kind of game I suppose].

I have a 'Selected Writings'. I have 'Desdichado' in there. I have it in French but with English and I did some googling. It is a very beautiful poem, like those of Baudelaire, no wonder Eliot had it in his mind. Incredible. I recall you saying that Eliot must have had a great grasp of French. 1996 or so at the London Bar. Strange the selection of things one recalls. Eliot connects somehow so much: de Nerval and Lafourge make an unlikely conjunction. So much of world poetry is outside its own language that a writer is compelled to either learn other languages or to attempt to get (or to "get") the poetry of say French with a bilingual translation. I even had some old Japanese poems where I wish I had more of the Japanese (by Basho).

But the US is an immigrant nation, something that Trump has forgotten if he ever knew, and the culture is enormously enriched by Africa, Europe, Asia and the world...and all those poets in the anthology you had (or most) would be widely read in other cultures or languages even if only in some cases of translations.

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