Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Friday, July 11, 2008

Walt Whitman and Harold Bloom

On this date (July 11) in 1855, approximately one week after the initial publication of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s father died. The legendary date for the publication of Leaves of Grass remains July 4, 1855; however, since bookstores were closed that day, the actual release is believed to have happened on July 6, when a small newspaper classified advertisement appeared announcing the availability of “Walt Whitman’s Poems, Leaves of Grass” for the price of two dollars. The thin green quarto-size book carrying gold embossed lettering on the cover, decorated with a design of leaves and vines, contained only a dozen poems and did not mention the author’s name on its cover or title page. Instead, the speaker of the poetry is revealed within the lines of “Song of Myself” as “Walt Whitman, one of the roughs.” Also, inside the volume the portrait of a young, bearded, and roughly dressed individual hinted at the poet’s identity. As well, this self-published book’s copyright page listed a “Walter Whitman.” Nearly 800 copies were printed—200 bound in cloth.

At the time of his father’s death, Whitman had not yet received any response to his poetry. Even his brother expressed no interest in reading the poems. There had not yet been any reviews, and the poet had not obtained any reply for complimentary copies he had distributed. Indeed, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous letter, characterizing the collection as “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed,” would not be sent to Whitman until July 21. Emerson’s well-known note included the following excerpt: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty . . ..”

Consequently, as Walt Whitman dealt with the death of his own father, he had no indication about the eventual history of appreciation and influence his poetry would come to have in the canon of American literature. In fact, at that instant in his life, despite his egotism and the confidence he frequently exhibited in himself and his work, Whitman would have to be as surprised as anyone else to discover he’d be seen in the following centuries as the symbolic father of American poetry. As Harold Bloom writes in The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages: “If someone in 1855 had announced that the canonical American writer had just appeared with a book called Leaves of Grass, rather awkwardly printed and with no subject except himself, we might have expressed a modest skepticism.”

Coincidentally, July 11 also stands as the birthdate of Harold Bloom, born in 1930. Regarded by many as the premier contemporary critic of poetry, as well as one who often stirs controversy concerning his views of both literature and politics, Bloom has declared Whitman America’s “national poet.” Further, in a chapter of The Western Canon, titled Walt Whitman as Center of the American Canon, Bloom declares the following:

If one attempts to list the artistic achievements of our nation against the background of Western tradition, our accomplishments in music, painting, sculpture, architecture tend to be somewhat dwarfed. It is not a question of using Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven as the standard; Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bartok are more than enough to place our composers in a somewhat sad perspective. And whatever the splendors of modern American painting and sculpture, there has been no Matisse among us. The exception is in literature. No Western poet in the past century and a half, not even Browning or Leopardi or Baudelaire, overshadows Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson . . ..

* * *

For many current readers, Whitman is the passionate populist, precursor of Allen Ginsberg and other professional rebels. His actual authentic descendants are the strong American poets who tried to flee him but could not: T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. One should add the magnificent Hart Crane, who wrote in the rhetoric of Eliot and Stevens but with Whitmanian aspiration and stance. The English poet-prophet D.H. Lawrence is the fourth true Whitmanian poet in the language; Pound, William Carlos Williams, and other nominees are something else, while John Ashbery seems to me the fifth and most Whitmanian of those who actually learn from and extend Song of Myself. Hispanic poets, culminating in Neruda, take Whitman’s influence in another direction, one that has more to do with Walt Whitman as symbolic figure than with the actual text of the poetry.

Whitman’s originality has less to do with his supposedly free verse than it does with his mythological inventiveness and mastery of figurative language. His metaphors and meter-making arguments break the new road even more effectively than his innovations in metrics . . ..

* * *

Whitman founded what is uniquely American in our imaginative literature, even if rival camps among us claim him as ancestor. Among poets I honor in my own generation, James Wright caught up one Whitman, John Ashbery quite another, A.R. Ammons still another, and there are doubtless more authentic Whitmans to come.

I remember one summer, in crisis, being at Nantucket with a friend who was absorbed in fishing, while I read aloud to both of us from Whitman and recovered myself again. When I am alone and read aloud to myself, it is almost always Whitman, sometimes when I desperately need to assuage grief. Whether you read aloud to someone else or in solitude, there is a peculiar appropriateness in chanting Whitman. He is the poet of our climate, never to be replaced, unlikely ever to be matched. Only a few poets in the language have surpassed “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”: Shakespeare, Milton, perhaps one or two others. Whether even Shakespeare and Milton have achieved a more poignant pathos and a darker eloquence than Whitman’s “Lilacs,” I am not always certain.

Since publication of his first book of literary criticism (Shelley’s Mythmaking, 1959) nearly fifty years ago, Harold Bloom has initiated and instigated as much valuable discussion about literature as any American critic. His influential essays on “the anxiety of influence” and the “misreading” of texts, as well as other critical perspectives, released in the 1970s—The Anxiety of Influence (1973), A Map of Misreading (1975), Kabbalah and Criticism (1975), and Poetry and Repression (1976)—remain important sources for discussion and debate, even when they are described by some younger academics as antiquated or mistaken. A New York Times profile of Bloom once labeled him a “colossus among critics.” His opinions have offered illumination, inspired, and irritated many over the past five decades. Yet, whether one enthusiastically agrees or strongly disagrees with any Bloom analysis, the prose is still usually original and individual, engaging as well as enlightening, frequently even entertaining.

Harold Bloom often has opposed various strains of theoretical literary criticism, and he has insisted upon individual readings of texts. During an interview that appeared in The Atlantic, Bloom concluded: “What theory did the great critics have? Critics like Dr. Samuel Johnson or William Hazlitt? Those who adopt a theory are simply imitating somebody else. I believe firmly that, in the end, all useful criticism is based upon experience. An experience of teaching, an experience of reading, one’s experience of writing—and most of all, one’s experience of living. Just as wisdom, in the end, is purely personal. There can be no method except the Self.”

Certainly, Harold Bloom’s five decade career of criticism has represented his own hymn to literature with an emphasis on the self, clearly complementary to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that was included in the famous first edition of Leaves of Grass more than 150 years ago and that helped establish Whitman in the eyes of Bloom as America’s primary canonical poet.


Cogito Ergo Doleo said...

Thank you, Edward Byrne, for this lucid, concise, incisive, cogent, and luminous contribution to the on-going discourse surrounding Whitman's stunning oeuvre.

Wow. Talk splendour in the grass . . .

pintorpereza said...

Por muy controversial y criticado que ha sido Harold Bloom, yo estoy 100% de acuerdo en su comentario sobre Walt Whitman. Sin él Neruda no sería lo mismo, y diversos poetas de nuestro idioma lo han alabado como un grande: Borges, Rubén Darío, Federico García Lorca, el mismo Neruda. Para mí Whitman representa América (del Norte, del Sur y del Centro). To me, Walt Whitman is America (all America: South, North, Centre), is the major poet of America.