By Paul Mariani
Booklet by means of Mariani, Paul
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Additional resources for A Usable Past: Essays on Modern and Contemporary Poetry
Nevertheless, the dialogue concerning reality and the imagination, including as a subset the problem of the most effective rhetorical strategies for the poem, went on in the midst of the most important forum of all: the poems themselves. In this debate, it seems to me, both men were winners. Contemporary American poetry is richer for both the concretized abstractions of Stevens as well as for Williams's insistent stabbings and questionings. For both poets, we should remember, are grounded in the things of this world.
But once the biographer has felt that fine delight, that moment of light streaming into the head, the moment of the rainbow, there is still the forbidding pyramid of dust to work with. The biographer may have caught something like the inner life of his or her subject, but how in heaven's name, after all, shall one go about taking all those index card entries and all those interviews done on tape or in shorthand or by telephone and, in the case of the Subject as writer, analyzing or at least accounting for all those marvelous poems and essays, those memoirs and letters and libretti, and transforming all into a readable narrative that shall do justice to the subject?
Lewis's biography of Edith Wharton, and Ellman's life of Joyce, each certainly sustained meditations, seem to me appropriate in part because of the creative longevity of each of those figures. Sometimes a case has to be made for presenting a particular life in detail even as one is in the act of re-creating the life, and that strategy likewise takes time. No one would blink twice if another long life were to appear that dealt with Faulkner or Pound or Eliot or Frost (though it is interesting that Lawrance Thompson's three-volume life should already have contracted to a single volume).