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Poetry and the Age PDF, ePub eBook About Poetry and the Age: "Perhaps the most comprehensive and certainly the most detailed of all studies of modern poetry."-- Delmore Schwartz, New York Times Book Review "Randall Jarrell’s book about poetry and the criticism of poetry pulls the bung-cork out of the barrel. The reader is exhilarated, led on to agree with Mr. Jarrell joyfully, even to cap his opinions--and at About Poetry and the Age: "Perhaps the most comprehensive and certainly the most detailed of all studies of modern poetry."-- Delmore Schwartz, New York Times Book Review "Randall Jarrell’s book about poetry and the criticism of poetry pulls the bung-cork out of the barrel. The reader is exhilarated, led on to agree with Mr. Jarrell joyfully, even to cap his opinions--and at last to grow reckless. . . . Poetry and the Age is enormously readable."-- Louis Simpson, The American Scholar "The most powerful reviewer of poetry active in this country for the last decade. . . . Everybody interested in modern poetry ought to be grateful to him." -- John Berryman, New Republic Randall Jarrell was the critic whose taste defined American poetry after World War II. Poetry and the Age, his first collection of criticism, was published in 1953. It has been in and out of print over the past 40 years and has become a classic of American letters. In this new edition, two long-lost lectures by Jarrell have been added. Recently discovered by critics, they speak to issues at the heart of Jarrell’s criticism: the structure of poetry and the question "Is American poetry American?" One of the outstanding poets of the postwar generation, Jarrell was also celebrated for his extraordinary praise of some underappreciated older and younger poets and for his witty dismissals of current favorites he thought less qualified. Poetry and the Age includes groundbreaking considerations of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost as well as profound appraisals of Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, John Crowe Ransom, and William Carlos Williams. His early reviews that established the reputations of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop are here, beside other enthusiastic discoveries that have withstood the test of time. Poetry and the Age also contains Jarrell’s influential essays on the obscurity of poetry and on the age of criticism, essays that offer some of the most relevant and readable literary judgments of the 20th century. Randall Jarrell (1914-1965) wrote eight books of poetry, five anthologies, four children’s books illustrated by Maurice Sendak, four translations, including Faust: Part I and The Three Sisters (performed on Broadway by the Actor’s Studio), and a novel, Pictures from an Institution. He received the National Book Award for poetry in 1960, served as poet laureate at the Library of Congress in 1957 and 1958, and taught for many years at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. He was a member of the American Institute of Arts and Letters.

30 review for Poetry and the Age

  1. 5 out of 5

    John Allen

    Randall Jarrell was one of those statistical anomalies who could write first rate prose *and* poetry, and it shows in this rundown of poets like RP Blackmur, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and the poets he slams. (He is not shy about doing so and even titles one chapter "Bad Poets".) A feeling of painful aliveness comes through in this book, and it is almost as though Jarrell has a bit of mania going on and literally cannot stop writing on the subject at hand. He's also a purposeful contrarian, Randall Jarrell was one of those statistical anomalies who could write first rate prose *and* poetry, and it shows in this rundown of poets like RP Blackmur, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and the poets he slams. (He is not shy about doing so and even titles one chapter "Bad Poets".) A feeling of painful aliveness comes through in this book, and it is almost as though Jarrell has a bit of mania going on and literally cannot stop writing on the subject at hand. He's also a purposeful contrarian, as opposed to being a merely clever and annoying one. "When I was asked to talk about the Obscurity of the Modern Poet I was delighted, for I have suffered from this obscurity all my life. But then I realized that I was being asked to talk not about the fact that people don't read poetry, but about the fact that most of them wouldn't understand it if they did: about the difficulty, not the neglect, of contemporary poetry. And yet it is not just modern poetry, but poetry, that is totally obscure. "Paradise Lost" is what it was; but the ordinary reader no longer makes the mistake of trying to read it--instead he glances at it, weighs it in his hand, shudders, and suddenly, his eyes shining, puts iron his list of the ten dullest books he has ever read, along with "Moby Dick", "War and Peace", "Faust", and Boswell's "Life of Johnson". Jarrell hits the nail on the head as enthusiastically and aptly as possible. His asides are almost always pessimistic, which leads me further down the road of believing that his walking toward a car while intoxicated wasn't an accident or mere clumsy alcoholism. Even far and above "The Triggering Town" by Richard Hugo, this. Recommended, recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Robert Wechsler

    Because Jarrell was an aphoristic literary critic, the best way for those who haven't read him to see what he's like is to share a few of his aphorisms: Emphasizing the poet over the poem is like "someone who, because he has inherited a pearl necklace, can never again look at an oyster without a shudder of awe." "Surely it is the excellence most unlike our own that we will be most eager to acknowledge, since it not only extends but completes us — and since only we, not the excellence, are harmed b Because Jarrell was an aphoristic literary critic, the best way for those who haven't read him to see what he's like is to share a few of his aphorisms: Emphasizing the poet over the poem is like "someone who, because he has inherited a pearl necklace, can never again look at an oyster without a shudder of awe." "Surely it is the excellence most unlike our own that we will be most eager to acknowledge, since it not only extends but completes us — and since only we, not the excellence, are harmed by our rejection of it." "Readers, real readers, are almost as wild a species as writers; most critics are so domesticated as to seem institutions—as they stand there between reader and writer, so different from either, they remind one of the Wall standing between Pyramus and Thisbe." "When you organize one of the contradictory elements out of your work of art, you are getting rid not just of it, but of the contradiction of which it was a part; and it is the contradictions in works of art which make them able to represent to us ... our world and our selves."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Richard Epstein

    Perhaps the best book of critical essays ever written by an American, it is simultaneously wise and quotable. If Jarrell had ever devoted himself singlemindedly to snark, his subjects would have spontaneously combusted.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gerry LaFemina

    What I love most in this book that provides me with much to love, is the prose stylings of Jarrell, and his willingness to be sharp tongued, even about poets he admires. Poetry is not an all or nothing affair, and Jarrell is willing to praise Paterson book 1 (for example) while lambasting book 2. Smart, savvy, and clear headed, Jarrell is one of those rare breed of poet-critics capable of doing both with panache.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    i felt rather judged by the first essay in this book, reading a critic's work while jarrell criticized his peers who felt more beholden to the work of critics than to the literature that occasioned it—or i felt judged belatedly, as i found myself rushing through the poetry jarrell would quote in order to get back to his criticism. alas. in my defense jarrell is actually not a great quoter of poetry—often he quotes at length, liberally, much too much, which works the first couple times or every n i felt rather judged by the first essay in this book, reading a critic's work while jarrell criticized his peers who felt more beholden to the work of critics than to the literature that occasioned it—or i felt judged belatedly, as i found myself rushing through the poetry jarrell would quote in order to get back to his criticism. alas. in my defense jarrell is actually not a great quoter of poetry—often he quotes at length, liberally, much too much, which works the first couple times or every now and then in order to further his self-characterization as little more, nothing more harmless, than an enthusiastic reader, someone who writes criticism not for self-aggrandizement but for enjoyment, love, to gesture madly at the reader look at this, don't you see!. which is what he's doing, it's true—but still it gets tiresome. i bought this at the hyde park used book sale, my endless font, back in october because i'd spent one happy afternoon or two months before reading at random through his archive of short reviews in the nation (for some reason i'd remembered it being the partisan review, but in the book he excerpts a few from the nation, so i suppose the nation it must have been), and i feel wrong to report that i think jarrell is best at quick aphoristic reviews rather than longer ones—and more astute, often, in less rather than more positive criticism. (though he's, you know, good enough at the job that nothing is ever really purely positive, purely negative—he is in this way impartial, knowing that just because he loves marianne moore or william carlos williams or wallace stevens that he cannot, should not, would never, endlessly compliment them, not when they're failing. but man, some of those endless williams pieces feel—well—endless.) in any case, i remain fond of him. criticism is temporary, he notes—and he sort of proves it. why am i enjoying this, i thought at some points. what is this doing for me, what am i gaining, how am i learning. jarrell is really often quite bad at explaining why he thinks a poem is good or really what a poem is doing! he just defers rapturously to quotation (quotation really is an art, james wood has taught me). most of his reading feels really quite period-specific, less of the ~eternal~ or whatever. i did not myself feel nudged along my journey towards being an adequate, attentive reader, which is really all one should be looking for in criticism of this kind. but i read it, and i'm not very sorry about it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    robert

    I like this book and reread it with nostalgic affection, but Jarrell is so specific in his readings that afterwards one is left with impressions rather than ideas. It seems like the book vaporizes. For example, after all the writing on William Carlos Williams (his best poems are listed on 248) one is left with the sense that Williams is a healthy, kind, and generous human being, perhaps not a common characteristic of poets. Jarrell never quite comes to the point. Another overarching impression i I like this book and reread it with nostalgic affection, but Jarrell is so specific in his readings that afterwards one is left with impressions rather than ideas. It seems like the book vaporizes. For example, after all the writing on William Carlos Williams (his best poems are listed on 248) one is left with the sense that Williams is a healthy, kind, and generous human being, perhaps not a common characteristic of poets. Jarrell never quite comes to the point. Another overarching impression is the sense that no one reads anymore, which is an eternal plaint that began with the dawn of civilization. Jarrell feels the loss but really what is lost if, for example, I had never read his book? It reminds me of Bloom's mantra that Shakespeare invented us because all we think has already been thunk by the bard of the Elizabethans. Bloom's claim is simply a semantic game, since it goes without saying (so I say) that human experience exists with or without literature. I wonder what Jarrell would think of Bob Dylan and hip hop. Poetry changes as the Age changes. The Victorian poetic practice he bemoans in Richard Wilbur ("Why would anybody want to write like that?") doesn't bother me. But his description of the imagist poets did disturb me. Apparently, imagist poets raise their gazes from their navels only to monitor their own responses and write them down, using poetry as their mirror. They feel and write down what they feel. No need for narrative or drama. Often no need to even leave their rooms. For example, the poet wakes and there is snow on the ground and he describes the snow. All well and good but perfectly inconsequential. As Jarrell rightly states: "The subject of poetry had changed from the actions of men to the reactions of poets" (240). On page 245 he quotes Williams to ill effect, for Williams words accumulate but say nothing. However, pages 270 and 271 use Williams to bring the book to a rousing conclusion. And on page 238 there is this: "And he is as Pelagian as an obstetrician should be: as he points to the poor red thing mewling behind plate-glass, he says with professional, observant disbelief: 'You mean you think THAT'S full of Original Sin?'" Here is his description of Muriel Rukeyser (whose best poems he says are Ajanta and Mrs. Walpurga): "The Common Woman of our century who brings sex to the deserving poor." And he writes that: "Art matters not merely because it is the most magnificent ornament and most nearly unfailing occupation of our lives, but because it is life itself . . ." (22).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bob Nichols

    *In his first “lecture,” Jarrell laments that people don’t take poetry seriously anymore. They don’t know how to read a poem and the required thoughtfulness and imagination are missing. Readers of poetry today know nothing of superiority, of “true Excellence” he writes, adding that a “life without some form of poetry is not human life but animal existence." In “The Age of Criticism,” Jarrell hits the critics hard. He says they should be guides to the mountain top. They are not the mountain top ( *In his first “lecture,” Jarrell laments that people don’t take poetry seriously anymore. They don’t know how to read a poem and the required thoughtfulness and imagination are missing. Readers of poetry today know nothing of superiority, of “true Excellence” he writes, adding that a “life without some form of poetry is not human life but animal existence." In “The Age of Criticism,” Jarrell hits the critics hard. He says they should be guides to the mountain top. They are not the mountain top (arrogant critics he says give you “their Lear”). While “most people understand that a poet is a good poet because he does well some of the time,” many critics he writes “have the bearing of people who are right all the time.” They have a language and style that is “as institutionalized as those of sociologists” and use “a style which insists upon their superiority to the society that disregards them.” Jarrell argues that a good critic must take “the chance of making a complete fool of himself – and sometimes, doing so…he must stick his neck out just as the artist does, if he is to be of any real use to art.” Yet elsewhere, he suggests that there is no need for a critic when he writes, “To be able to tell which critics are reliable guides to literature, you must know enough about literature not to need guides.” The rest of this book is a series of wordy essays on various poets (e.g., Frost, Stevens, Whitman). Writing of Stevens, Jarrell states that poetry is a bad medium for philosophy. So much for Lucretius' On the Nature of Things. Jarrell's statement depends on what what constitutes "poetry" and whether there's room, for example, for gnomic poetry. *I read the 1953 Vintage Books edition.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    I think Jarrell's criticisms/essays are as good as I've read, insightful, funny. To people who say they don't read modern poetry because it's too difficult to understand, he responds with: it's not, and that's not why you don't read it. That reasoning can apply to a great many things. When people complain about welfare recipients using their assistance for drugs isn't, "They don't and that's not why you oppose it" sound like a perfect response. Anyway, I went back and read Frost; I went back and I think Jarrell's criticisms/essays are as good as I've read, insightful, funny. To people who say they don't read modern poetry because it's too difficult to understand, he responds with: it's not, and that's not why you don't read it. That reasoning can apply to a great many things. When people complain about welfare recipients using their assistance for drugs isn't, "They don't and that's not why you oppose it" sound like a perfect response. Anyway, I went back and read Frost; I went back and read Moore; I went back and read Stevens, with a new appreciation.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Garza

    Essential literary criticism; a beautiful read for its own language; pure Jarrell.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Randall

    Mad stylish & devastating.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Bryant, read this.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Richard Epstein

    When you've finished this book, you will know more than you did when you started, and what you already knew, you will understand better. That's a lot to take away from one book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Armen

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ron Mohring

  15. 4 out of 5

    Theo

  16. 5 out of 5

    Yvette

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jenni

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gabe

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

  21. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Stephen

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Coker

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maurice Bishop

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alex Boyd

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christoper Robinson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Avram Kline

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Pfeffer

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joe Brett

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ernest Hilbert

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