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

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Robert Lowell: "New Year's Day"

As we begin the new year and anticipate those activities that lie ahead in 2009, I also would like to take a moment for a brief look backward with the introduction of an early poem by Robert Lowell, appropriately titled “New Year’s Day.” Although most readers know Lowell as the “confessional” poet whose somewhat relaxed and straight-forward style amazingly helped reshape American poetry in the last half of the twentieth century, a reminder of Lowell’s roots as a more formal and lyrically elaborate poet might at times be needed as well.

Indeed, this year will mark the fiftieth anniversary since Lowell’s Life Studies (1959) signaled his shift in writing style and thoroughly transformed the literary landscape. When Life Studies won the National Book Award in 1960, Lowell stated: “Two poetries are now competing, a cooked and a raw. The cooked, marvelously expert, often seems laboriously concocted to be tasted and digested by a graduate seminar. The raw, huge blood-dripping gobbets of unseasoned experience are dished up for midnight listeners. There is a poetry that can only be studied, and a poetry that can only be declaimed, a poetry of pedantry, and a poetry of scandal.”

“New Year’s Day” stands among the “cooked” poems published in Lord Weary’s Castle, Robert Lowell’s collection that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and first established Lowell as a dominant figure in American poetry when the younger poet still might be regarded as a New Criticism formalist. The works in his first few volumes seem to demonstrate his initial influences (T.S. Eliot, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and John Crowe Ransom, among others), as well as his interest in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century metaphysical poets. As I have written in a previous post, “Robert Lowell’s Legacy: Life Studies,” on the occasion of Lowell’s birthday last March:

Clearly, Robert Lowell’s first couple of poetry collections, Land of Unlikeness (1944) along with the subsequent volume titled Lord Weary’s Castle (1946), display characteristics developed under the direction of those formidable figures who helped shape his early writing. As Frank Bidart explains in his introduction to Robert Lowell’s Collected Poems: “What most people think of as his first book, Lord Weary’s Castle, is not a ‘revision’ of Land of Unlikeness—less than a quarter of it transforms material from the earlier book—but it is, I think, the book that Land of Unlikeness wanted to be.” Lord Weary’s Castle quickly achieved critical praise and proved a successful introduction into the literary world for Robert Lowell when that volume was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1947.

The young poet was lauded for his precisely wrought formal poems, heavily metrical lines with meaty language often presented in a tightly wound syntax that seemed knotted by metaphors or similes. Already, some critics began to view Lowell as an ascending star, perhaps a major poet whose style would solidify an approach to poetry they appreciated. However, when his follow-up book of poetry, The Mills of the Kavanaughs, appeared in 1951 to a mixed reception by critics, some of whom had held higher expectations for the new work, Lowell’s disappointment may have caused him to pause for reconsideration of his writing style. Indeed, for various reasons, eight years would pass before Lowell’s next collection, Life Studies, was published in 1959.

One wonders what directions Robert Lowell’s poetic style, as well as the eventual progression of American poetry, might have followed had Lowell not received such disappointing reactions to The Mills of the Kavanaughs and had he not been prompted by personal experiences or public observations to reexamine his whole approach to composing poetry, presenting a vastly different style of writing, one he wasn’t sure was “a death-rope or a life-line,” as he once stated. David Perkins suggests in his book, A History of Modern Poetry (Harvard University Press, 1987): in his first decade of publishing poetry, “Lowell’s verses had frequent spondees and caesuras yet were strongly enjambed, with an effect of energy blocking itself and then suddenly exploding. His images were violent, telescoped, and bristling with ambivalent implications; transitions between them were difficult and sometimes impenetrable; yet in the clotted awkwardness there was intellectual strength.”

As accomplished and polished as pieces, such as “New Year’s Day,” written by Robert Lowell for those first three books appear to be to close readers of poetry, they also now seem more like relics of modernism and Lowell’s fervor for religious allusion or symbolism—glimpsed today perhaps as odd historical artifacts from an earlier time period—than clear evidence of a new voice about to alter the course of American literature. Patrick Cosgrave characterizes the closing stanza of Lowell’s “New Year’s Day” in his volume of criticism, The Public Poetry of Robert Lowell (Taplinger Publishing, 1972), as typical of that stage of the poet’s career, containing heightened rhetoric “intensified by a highly alliterative iambic line and heavy rhyming, while the sense escapes understanding, though a desperate effort is clearly being made to reach truth”:


Again and then again . . . the year is born
To ice and death, and it will never do
To skulk behind storm-windows by the stove
To hear the postgirl sounding her French horn
When the thin tidal ice is wearing through.
Here is the understanding not to love
Our neighbor, or tomorrow that will sieve
Our resolutions. While we live, we live

To snuff the smoke of victims. In the snow
The kitten heaved its hindlegs, as if fouled,
And died. We bent it in a Christmas box
And scattered blazing weeds to scare the crow
Until the snake-tailed sea-winds coughed and howled
For alms outside the church whose double locks
Wait for St. Peter, the distorted key.
Under St. Peter's bell the parish sea

Swells with its smelt into the burlap shack
Where Joseph plucks his hand-lines like a harp,
And hears the fearful Puer natus est
Of Circumcision, and relives the wrack
And howls of Jesus whom he holds. How sharp
The burden of the Law before the beast:
Time and the grindstone and the knife of God.
The Child is born in blood, O child of blood.

—Robert Lowell

For previous commentary about Robert Lowell on “One Poet’s Notes” and links to audio presentations of his poetry, I invite readers to visit the following posts: “Robert Lowell’s Legacy: Life Studies,” “Robert Lowell’s Voice,” and “Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick.”


Anonymous said...

What a loss, if such poems are considered only "as odd historical artifacts from an earlier time period." As much as I appreciate the flowering of free verse that followed after Life Studies, I take more and more pleasure in formal poetic elements, skillfully used, especially in service to "images . . . , telescoped, and bristling with ambivalent implications."

Edward Byrne said...

Yes, Jana, I agree. I am still amazed by the skill and strength exhibited by some of Lowell's earlier poems. They are marvelous. If they are "only" viewed as artifacts, that would be a loss. However, in comparison with the poems of Life Studies, they do seem like late remnants of modernism rather than examples of a fresh new voice, as evident in Life Studies, that would "alter the course of American literature."

sexy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.