A Man in the City

By Hall, Donald | Chicago Review, Summer-Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

A Man in the City


Hall, Donald, Chicago Review


In 1957, Donald Hall published New Poets of England and America, an anthology he edited with Robert Pack and Louis Simpson; it has been widely regarded as a defense of the academic poetry of the era. Chicago Review was publishing poetry by many of the contributors to this collection (notably Philip Booth, John Hollander, Howard Moss, and William Jay Smith) and had included new work by each of the collection's editors, even as the journal had promoted formally-innovative work by e. e. cummings and William Carlos Williams. Hall himself would soon come to champion new poets who followed the expansive breath of the Williams line. In the introduction to his 1962 anthology, Contemporary American Poetry, Hall complained of 1950s verse, "American poetry, which has always been outrageous - compare Whitman and Dickinson to Browning and Tennyson - dwindled into long poems in iambics called 'Herakles: A Double Sestina. 'Myth, myth, myth."(*) It may come as no surprise, then, that when recently asked to choose among the two poems he published in the Spring 1957 issue, he preferred "A Man in the City" over "Cain." HALL writes of "A Man in the City" that "it resembles 'Waiting on the Corners' and 'The Three Movements.'" He did not reprint this poem in a subsequent collection.

He came slowly up out of the subway as if he had just been born, white skin and wrinkled clothes in the sun. He walked a few steps to the shade of a building, reading a bronze plaque which said CHEMICAL CORN EXCHANGE BANK, and stopped reading, looked down at his shoes, across at the cars which moved rapidly into the streets, and in the windows of other buildings. …

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