Real Poetry

A dream, a trick, a savage or imbecile attack: any account of his work which hopes for assent will have to try to reconcile these views with each other, and with still other views. All we need agree yet is that it seems to display an essential, obvious coherence, originality and authority, such as will justify any care we may take to appreciate it. (…) The poems have an enigmatic air and yet they are desperately personal. The absence of the panoply of the Poet is striking. We remember that their author did not like to be called a poet nor did he call them poetry himself. How unusual is this, my readers will recognize: most writers of verse are merely dying to be called poets, tremblingly hopeful that what they write is real “poetry.” There was no pose here in Crane. His reluctance was an inarticulate recognition of something strange in the pieces. They are not like literary compositions. They are like things just seen and said, said for use. (…) Crane was not only a man with truths to tell, but an interested listener to this man. His poetry has the inimitable sincerity of a frightened savage anxious to learn what his dream means.

This is from the revised edition of John Berryman’s stunning study of Stephen Crane. Stephen Crane: A Critical Biography (1950, revised edition 1962) is one of the best studies of that odd writer and as for Berryman, it’s quite surprising how little critical attention is paid to that aspect of his work.

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  1. Pingback: Poetry - Page 13 - World Literature Forum

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