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Two Ways Out of Whitman: American Essays
Imprint: Lives and Letters
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (280 pages)
(Pub. Jun 2000)
Thew and sinew, as well as head and shoulders above anybody else from the post-Eliot and post-Empson generation, Davie is the best of our poet-critics. The scale and range of Davie's accomplishments as critic, as poet (Marvell's profound fluency, Pasternak's limpidity, Pound's audacity, Tennyson's epistolary ease, all bearing fruit, honestly grafted), and as poet-critic or (proud humility) 'practitioner': he has not had a rival.
This new collection of essays on American poetry by Donald Davie (1922-1995) displays again 'the scale and range' of one of the great 'understanders' of poetry of our century, here fulfilling his chosen role as bridge-builder between poets, poetries and cultures.
Something distinctively American begins with Whitman, and Davie takes his bearings from the nineteenth-century writer whose long shadow fell so decisively on the Modernists and their successors. It is the radical difference of Whitman's approach, his copiousness, his opened forms, that any reader of modern American poetry must come to terms with. The earliest essay in this book was published in 1954, the latest in 1991: four decades' engagement with American poetry, with changes in perspective which illuminate his subjects and the developing concerns of the critic.
Readers come to share his enthusiasms, engage with his critical strictures, take pleasure and learn from the dialogue he invites. Whether he is studying in depth a poem by Wallace Stevens, Lorine Niedecker, Robert Lowell or Robert Pinsky, or evoking the world of Yvor Winters, or exploring the work of those 'Black Mountain' poets (Ed Dorn and Charles Olson) whom he unfashionably commended to English readers, or raising fundamental questions about the place of William Carlos Williams in the American canon, he is invariably alert, independent-minded and plain spoken, an incomparable guide, a sharer of learning and - here is his bias - moral wisdom.
The photographer DOREEN DAVIE, the poet's widow, includes many celebrated essays along with uncollected material, including work held at the Beinecke Library at Yale, where the largest collection of Donald Davie's manuscripts is held.
Praise for Donald Davie 'He has drawn a map of modernism, starting with Hardy and Pound, that remains one of the definitive outlines of twentieth-century experiment in form and language. The mapmaker, in this case,is a notable locus on the map.'
Helen Vendler `These poems thrive on the restless energy that drives their author on from form to form and place to place. Few poets are more likely than Davie to persuade new readers that poetry can still be a matter of concern and pleasure.'
Martin Dodsworth, The Guardian 'In his criticism, he has drawn a map of modernism, starting with Hardy and Pound, that remains one of the definitive outlines of twentieth-century experiment in form and language.'
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