ARTS ETC: BOOKS: Poets - So Quick to Anger and So Slow to Cool ; Harriet Monroe Was a Saint of the Literary World, Advising and Succouring Shoeless Poets Galore. Were They Grateful? Were They Hell, Says Michael Glover: Dear Editor: A History of Poetry in Letters Ed Joseph Parisi and Stephen Young NORTON Pounds 32 Pounds 26.20 (+ Pounds 2.25 P&P PER ORDER) 0870 800 1122
Glover, Michael, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Editors of poetry magazines need poets quite as badly as poets need their editors. Unfortunately, poets seldom see it that way, so the correspondence between poets and editors is often as fiery and entertaining as could ever be wished. What an almighty clash of paper swords is here! And, if you are interested in fierce literary disputes, what better place to go for a cross-section of dyspeptic letters from many of the greatest poets of the 20th century than Poetry, a magazine founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, and which has continued to appear monthly ever since. This book is a selection from the voluminous correspondence of the first five decades of the magazine's existence.
The art of poetry was in a moribund state at the turn of the 20th century, and especially so in the United States of America. There were few independent poetry publishers; and such poets as did find a readership were, generally speaking, either saccharine purveyors of sentimentality or heavy-handed moralists, masters and mistresses of dreary uplift. There was no equivalent of the exciting innovations that were already all the rage in painting and architecture.
Something needed to be done - and Chicago-born Harriet Monroe, herself a minor poet and failed dramatist, was determined to do it. Monroe's wish was to found a magazine of broad editorial tastes which would give poets a sense of the importance of their own work. Contributors would be paid. And the criterion for inclusion? Literary excellence, nothing but that. Monroe raised the necessary funds, and then went on to edit the magazine for nearly 25 years.
The years of her editorship coincided exactly with the birth of literary modernism and the coming to prominence of poets who later came to be regarded as some of the most influential of the century: T S Eliot, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, William Carlos Willams, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens and many others. Monroe played a major part in all of this, and published many of these poets for the first time. It was she who first published Eliot's "Prufrock", in 1915; it was she who discovered and encouraged Wallace Stevens. And it was she who managed to find a way of working with one of the most cantankerous literary personalities of the century: Ezra Pound. Pound served as the magazine's "foreign editor", submitting material from Europe, virtually from the magazine's inception in 1912, the year of the birth of Imagism - or so Pound himself declared.
The delights of this book are in the details. Can there ever have been a greater bunch of egotists than a roomful of poets? What is it about poets that makes them so testy, so vainglorious, so quick to anger, and so slow to cool? Economic impotence may be one explanation, for there is no denying that the vocation of poet seldom goes hand in hand with easy prosperity - unless, like Wallace Stevens, the poet in question determines from the start to earn a living in an entirely different way. (Stevens worked throughout his life as a very successful insurance agent. …