Tuesday, September 27, 2016

`Pick It Up and Throw It Across the Room'

If the Library of America is happy to scrape the sub-literate bottom and make room for Lovecraft, Le Guin and Dick, surely they can spare a volume for the Stanford School, the irregulars associated with poet-critic Yvor Winters. Writers, especially good ones, are independent by nature, even solitary. Most often it’s critics who cram them into categories for their own convenience. The poets who studied under, or were to some degree touched by Winters, are a notably heterogeneous bunch, hardly a school at all in a reductive sense. Except for their connections with Winters, J.V. Cunningham, Edgar Bowers, Thom Gunn, Donald Justice, Turner Cassity and Helen Pinkerton share only a severe dedication to poetry. Add to their number Winters’ widow, Janet Lewis (1899-1898), who also wrote excellent fiction. The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941) is her masterpiece, one that “has the effect of calling into question the literary values of the age.” Also good is Against a Darkening Sky (1943). All of her novels and stories are written for grownups, an elusive quality among American writers. Someone has published an interview conducted with Lewis shortly before her death. Here are some samples:

“There have been many things I’ve tried to write about and could not. Things too serious, too painful, and that’s not the purpose of writing a poem. The point of poetry is to make something beautiful—something in itself. I’m not trying to pour my sorrows down on the page.”

Asked “How does one become a poet?” she answers: “By writing and also by reading poetry. Getting a lot of it in your head, and getting a feel for the form. I’m thinking more of the musical, lyrical form that is easier for most people. I’d say to read English poetry, lots of it. English poetry is the best of all poetry—the language is wonderful for poetry."

“We have great poems that go from generation to generation and most people know them and they are simple for the most part, sorrows and griefs, and I suppose those are the great poems. Shakespeare’s sonnets, `Dover Beach’—they mean a great deal to many people.”

On her husband: “He made an enormous contribution. It’s all in his books. It’s solid; you can pick it up and throw it across the room.”

Here is Lewis’ “Days” (The Selected Poems of Janet Lewis, ed. R.L. Barth, 2000):

“Swift and subtle
The flying shuttle
Crosses the web
And fills the loom,
Leaving for range
Of choice or change
No room, no room.”

1 comment:

drizzz said...

The Stanford School idea is sound but at the moment several other projects are ahead of it, including works by Carolyn Keene, F. W. Dixon and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Thank you for your input!