Hart Crane: After His Lights

By Brian M. Reed | Go to book overview
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Bob Kaufman's Crane

The last two chapters have investigated Hart Crane's influence on the New American Poetry in general and on Paul Blackburn and Frank O'Hara specifically. The inquiry has emphasized community formation—in theory, in rhetoric, and in practice—in order to highlight the instability, mutability, and resilience of an author's life and works through time, as well as their dependency on local, particular discourses, conditions, and personalities for their shape, character, and consequences. To speak of “strong” or “weak” readings of earlier poets, as Harold Bloom does, makes little sense when so much more is at stake in, and implicated in, an encounter between two writers than mere oedipal confrontation. O'Hara's relative reticence about Crane in his public pronouncements, for example, could be compared to Wallace Stevens's caginess about writers who had influenced him—a sign for Bloom of Stevens's “strong,” transumptive process of absorbing and reinventing his precursors.1 But such an argument would have to overlook O'Hara's difficulties in squaring his Cranean poetics with a social network in which “Crane” signified things other than a bundle of technical stratagems, aesthetic standards, and ethical-philosophical principles.

While thus departing from traditional, genealogical “influence” studies in certain respects, the last two chapters still, however, have at their core a series of analyses illustrating indebtedness of later poets to an earlier one. Indebtedness, though, is only one possible relationship between two writers. To speak of a debt is to imply an obligation. Blackburn and O'Hara, for example, could be presumed to owe Crane some degree of gratitude, good will, or recognition because he provides them with formal and thematic models that they choose to imitate, echo, or update. Can one, though, speak of a “debt” when later writers reject what earlier ones advocate, when they choose to


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Hart Crane: After His Lights


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