Academic journal article Chicago Review

Letter to the Poetry Editor

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Letter to the Poetry Editor

Article excerpt

Concord, Massachusetts October 7, 1957

Dear Mr. Carroll:

I want to call you on that "gray-flannel poets" piece. I didn't see the Western Review anthology (and wasn't in it), so I don't pretend to defend whatever poets were there, nor do I want to wish myself out of your own listing or defend myself from the tag. I don't like it, be sure, but what really bothers me is your promiscuous grouping of poets who are so various. I agree with you that there's too much "able, academic, anemic" verse floating its way into publication, and I'm damn well for the kind of guts that seem to me to be represented in Isabella Gardner's poem. If I were clearer what you meant by "adventure" and "gaudiness" I might vote for these things too. But to set these virtues up against the multiple strawman of your list does seem to me to be dubiously honest, and disastrously un-useful. What Nelson Algren gets said about critics on page 97 seems to me to apply here, as a matter of fact. Your list of gray flannel poets live on very different streets, I'd think: Hecht and Merrill are highly elegant, Hollander sometimes appears in the guise of university-wit, for instance, and Hall seems to write from a mind committed to scholarly disciplines. And so on. Maybe these literary addresses seem to you to rate flannelizing them (or others), but I can't in any case see how Merwin gets measured by the same tape. That he is brilliant I agree, but Green with Beasts is unlike any other book on your list: it's full of the riskiest kind of symbolic poems (like "The Station" or "The Mountain"). I suppose I want to defend Merwin because I feel closer to him than to any other poet on your list; I guess I think we're trying to get at some of the same things. And, as a tactic, I think we're after poems which metaphorically deepen under surfaces that seem perfectly calm. Or perhaps I should say that I sometimes try for that, as a way to get around superficial readers, the ones that won't get saved, "as St. …

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