Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How long a scarred old dolphin can feed a couple of dozen buzzards and a few gulls

Christoph Irmscher reviews HERMAN MELVILLE: COMPLETE POEMS in The New Criterion

We expected nothing and got a big review in the London Times Literary Supplement then a big review in the New York Review of Books. Now a sweet two full page review in The New Criterion. Here is the start of the first paragraph:
What an extraordinary two-hundredth birthday present for Herman Melville: a handsome Library of America edition collecting all of his poems in one volume, and in reliable textual form, too. Two crisply drawn maps, a chronology, over fifty pages of detailed notes provided by his best biographer, and a midnight-blue ribbon marker: Melville would have been surprised by all the attention. . . .

Monday, November 18, 2019

What splendid company. Mike Abrams, Lionel, Harry, Hershel, Leon, and Alfred

M.H. Abrams, 2009.(Dale R. Corson)

M.H. Abrams, the distinguished literary critic, died April 22, at age 102. This appraisal of the man and his work by Tablet’s Adam Kirsch originally appeared on July 11, 2012, on the occasion of M.H. Abrams’ 100th birthday. 
When Henry James paid a visit to his native country in 1905, after decades living in Europe, he was struck with a kind of pious horror by the spectacle he found on the Lower East Side of New York City. As a novelist, James was bothered most of all by his fear of what these “swarming” Jews would mean for the future of the English language in America. Visiting Yiddish caf├ęs, he saw them “as torture-rooms of the living idiom; the piteous gasp of which at the portent of lacerations to come could reach me in any drop of the surrounding Accent of the Future.” To James, the English language and English literature were the inalienable possession of the Anglo-Saxon race—a common feeling that persisted long after James wrote. As late as the 1930s, while Jews made up more than their share of Ivy League students—and would have been even more overrepresented if not for quotas—they were still virtually absent from the English faculty.
Then, almost overnight, everything changed. Starting in the postwar years, anti-Semitism became intellectually unrespectable, thanks to its association with Nazism and the Holocaust, while the flood of new students entering the universities under the G.I. Bill meant that there was an urgent need for new faculty. Jewish professors, critics, and scholars were newly acceptable—Lionel Trilling studied Arnold at Columbia, and Harry Levin studied Joyce at Harvard. Leon Edel wrote the biography of Henry James, and Hershel Parker wrote the biography of Melville. Alfred Kazin recovered the history of the American novel in On Native Grounds, a title whose defiant claim could not be missed.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sandberg on my Melville: The Making of the Poet--Happy to come across it!

Published March 4, 2008 | By Robert Sandberg

Anyone wanting to know Herman Melville the poet and how much poetry meant to him all of his life would do well to start with Hershel Parker’s Melville: The Making of the Poet. This book will surely prove foundational in the coming years and decades as Melville enthusiasts and scholars come to enjoy easy access to Melville’s poetry — many for the first time — as it becomes readily available in the forthcoming final two volumes of the Northwestern-Newberry series, The Writings of Herman Melville. Parker intentionally does not excerpt or quote much of Melville’s poetry, nor does he offer extended discussions concerning Melville’s status as a poet. However he does suggest that Melville’s poetry might be favorably ranked with the poetry of Dickinson, Whitman, the Brownings, and Tennyson. Parker is not alone in suggesting and arguing for the worth of Melville’s poetry. Many poets, readers, and critics have praised Melville’s poetic writings — Robert Penn Warren, Muriel Rukeyser (The Life of Poetry), and, more recently, Helen Vendler (Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology), to name just a few.

What Parker does do in Melville: The Making of the Poet is cite, document, and discuss thoroughly the evidence related to Melville’s reading and study of poetry from his earliest years that renders obsolete and unsustainable the unfounded, inaccurate view that poetry for Melville was a sideline, an afterthought, a way to escape the disappointing contemporary reception and poor sales of prose masterworks like Moby-Dick. In following Melville’s reading and book buying, Parker shows us glimpses of him finding, reading, and purchasing works (e.g., purchasing on October 27, 1861 Henry Taylor’s Notes from Life in Seven Essays that encouraged him to assume the identity of a poet and pursue the sort of life best suited to the writing of poetry.

Finally, perhaps not the least of the facts you will learn when reading Melville: The Making of the Poet, are those related to Parker’s re-telling and re-documenting (the evidence has been lying in plain site for decades) Melville’s failed, but very real, attempt to publish in 1860 what would have been his first published volume of poetry, titled simply, by Melville himself, Poems.

If you want to understand and appreciate Melville the poet and the poetry he wrote, this is an essential, foundational book to add to your reading library.

East Wind Sandblasting--Countered by Sand Goggles

Saturday, November 16, 2019

John Bel Edwards and Andy Beshear--Cousins of mine

Not close cousins, but kin. And both Democrats who won despite Trump's having worked for their Republican opponents. And while one is more appealing to me than the other, remember that his opponent was much worse. I am pleased that Edwards is kin through the Sims family which DNA sends us to Poundsford, near Bristol. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Vendler in the 5 December 2019 NYRofB and /r/literature on Melville's Poetry--Warren, Parker, Bloom, Vendler

After reading Helen Vendler's review of the Library of America HERMAN MELVILLE: COMPLETE POEMS in the 5 December 2019 NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS I have been looking around at the slow recognition of Melville's poetry. As late as 1997 Alfred Kazin could say, "You have to remember that poetry was just a sideline with Melville; it was never important to him and he was never good at it." This was at a Barnes & Noble session with Paul Metcalf and me. I corrected Kazin mildly by pointing out that whatever he thought of the poetry, it was what Melville wrote for a third of a century. In 2002 I was stunned that, ignoring all the documentation, three reviewers of the second volume of my biography of Melville, Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Foster, all expressed doubt that Melville had tried to publish POEMS in 1860 and even suggested that I had made the volume up--this despite his notes to his brother Allan on how he wanted the book published. The contemptuous ignorance of these reviews has had a strange afterlife. As recently as 2019, in the June issue of LEVIATHAN, John Bryant recalls these reviews (not naming the culprits), saying this: "one reviewer stated that Parker 'surmises' the existence of the volume--a fair-enough verb given the indirect though conclusive evidence at hand." Of course I was not surmising, not with the existence of the 12-point "Memoranda for Allan concerning the publication of my verses." "Fair enough?" What a strange thing to say about a willful blindness to evidence. There is high-minded skepticism but there is also willful distortion of evidence. My MELVILLE: THE MAKING OF THE POET (2008) was an outgrowth of my conviction of the importance of Melville's poetry, and the importance of recognizing that he started training himself as a poet as early as 1857 or certainly by 1858.   In a review of the 2008 book, Robert Faggen said, "Parker doesn't attempt here to answer Kazin's second point in any detail, though he makes it very clear that he regards Melville as a great poet, as have Helen Vendler, Lawrence Buell, William Spengemann and Robert Penn Warren. But perhaps no one has led the scholarly charge on this question with as much force as Parker. By setting once and for all the biographical and cultural context of Melville's efforts, Parker hopes that there can be a more focused, informed appreciation of Melville's accomplishment as a poet. And what a great and often thrilling achievement it is."

How strange to have the journal LEVIATHAN celebrating Melville's second volume of poems, BATTLE-PIECES, as his "inaugural" volume of poetry! How strange to have John Bryant in 2019 calling 2002 reviewer's contempt for my "surmises" about the existence of POEMS a "fair-enough verb"! You see why it is so very important that Dennis Zhou in the 25 October 2019 TLS and Helen Vendler in the 5 December 2019 NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, both reviewing the Library of America volume HERMAN MELVILLE: COMPLETE POEMS, have cut through all such nonsense to treat POEMS as real, though what survives of it is debatable, and to treat BATTLE-PIECES as his first volume of poems to be published, but not the first one he prepared for publication, and to treat CLAREL as a great poem.

This is from /r/literature, apparently around 2016:
Herman Melville's often popular for his prose writing, and he has earned his place as one of the great masters of American prose alongside luminaries such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Saul Bellow, William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov, and Don DeLillo.

What's often forgotten, even among staunch Melville fans, is his body of poetry. He's written the epic poem Clarel, which, whatever flaws it may have, has its defenders and admirers, three of them being Southern author Robert Penn Warren, Melville biographer and scholar Hershel Parker and Melville admirer Harold Bloom. He, being one of the first proto-modernist poets, also wrote many Civil War poems, many of which compete with the best poems of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, and Melville's poetry has its admirers, including Helen Vendler, who said of Clarel:

What it cost Melville to write this poem makes us pause, reading it. Alone, it is enough to win him, as a poet, what he called 'the belated funeral flower of fame.'"

So, while it is true that Melville's eminence lies primarily in his prose writing (and he is a prose-poet of the highest order, mixing poetry and prose in a way that has yet to be unrivaled), his poetry is still worthy of recognition.

Has anyone here on /r/literature read Melville's epic poem Clarel (or at least part of it) and/or any of his other poems?