Letter to the Poetry Editor

By Booth, Philip | Chicago Review, Summer-Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Letter to the Poetry Editor


Booth, Philip, Chicago Review


Philip Booth's letter followed in the Winter 1958 issue. Boom recently recalled the incident:

Asked, these years later, to comment on a 1957 "Letter to the Poetry Editor," I had to ask back to Chicago what all this was about. By the time the present editor sent me copies of both Paul Carroll's "Notes on Some Young Poets" and my published response, I'd found in old notebooks that Carroll had that year published my poem "Mores," which was one of the earliest poems in what would become my second book (1961), and probably catalyzed "Was a Man." Both poems now seem to me to have to do with issues that Carroll's "Notes" and my "Letter" were more or less about.

However thin these slices of the mid-1950s are, they make considerable sense. Whatever the poems of any of us have come to in the long run, Desnos or no, this Chicago Review glance proves one thing absolutely: all of us were nothing if not young.

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"). …

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