The Mind's Landscape: William Bronk and Twentieth-Century American Poetry

The Mind's Landscape: William Bronk and Twentieth-Century American Poetry

The Mind's Landscape: William Bronk and Twentieth-Century American Poetry

The Mind's Landscape: William Bronk and Twentieth-Century American Poetry

Synopsis

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, the poet William Bronk (1918-1999) was a significant voice in the American literary landscape. Even though he spent nearly all of his life in Hudson Falls, NY, Bronk was a vital presence in American poetry as evidenced by his connections to Robert Frost, Charles Olson, George Oppen, Robert Creeley, Wallace Stevens, Susan Howe, Rosemarie Waldrop, andothers. The Mind's Landscape attempts to present a fresh perspective of twentieth-century literary history as seen through the lens of Bronk's life as a writer

Excerpt

History is commonly perceived as a dialectic-an either/or framed in the Hegelian tension of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Not surprisingly, literary history is accorded a similar process that manifests as the categorical imperatives of those writers designated on the “inside” or “outside” of the canon or as a mode of classification of particular “schools” or collective movements (for example, Black Mountain, New Formalist, Language) that cohere through opposition to other such movements. Subsequently, the dynamic of literary history charts the ebb and flow of a historical dialectic, and while the names of schools, movements, and authors change, the process is often constrained within this binary model.

Given this literary historical paradigm, a difficulty emerges when one encounters a significant poet who defies these categorical imperatives and, by extension, challenges the foundation of logocentric thought. This is the issue that dominated my thinking when I first read the poetry and prose of William Bronk and tried to situate him within my purview of literary history. His work essentially defies easy classification, and I remarked upon this difficulty in a letter to Bronk. He responded in his somewhat typical manner: “I am an instance in literature in English and not quite like any of those others I may resemble.” Such hyperindividualism may seem suspect, but Robert Creeley offers a similar assessment: “Finally, there was no one else quite like him, so large in his singleness, so separate yet enclosing. One will not see his like again.” Because of such singleness, Bronk’s position in mainstream poetry has been somewhat marginalized, and yet his readers and admirers include Robert Frost, George Oppen, James Weil, Cid Corman, Charles Olson, John Taggart, Susan Howe, Philip Booth, Hayden Carruth, Charles Simic, and others. His “singleness,” in other words, was extremely broad and cut across the classifications of traditional versus avantgarde or modernist versus postmodernist. As Norman Finkelstein observes, this cast of admirers complicates the issue of Bronk’s “place” in literary history:

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