Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hart Crane's Jump




                               [Hart Crane (July 21, 1899 - April 27, 1932, photograph by Walker Evans]

Today marks the anniversary of the tragic death of the great American poet, Hart Crane (soon to be portrayed in the movie, The Broken Tower, by “our very own” James Franco!). Poete maudit, legendary suicide (“goodbye everybody!”) - Janet Hamill has most of the basic details.
Here’s William Logan in Poetry magazine, around the time of the publication of the Library of America’s edition of Crane’s Complete Poems, writing in defense of his less-than-committed response (“I’ve always loved Hart Crane, but I love him in fractions”):
“The biographers disagree”, Logan notes, “about the condition of the Atlantic when Crane jumped (in). (Paul) Mariani fails in The Broken Tower to describe the roughness of the ocean (he mentions the "impenetrable waters off which the noon sun gleamed," which doesn't sound choppy or rugged); Philip Horton in Hart Crane claims the "sea was mild"; and Clive Fisher, quoting (Peggy) Guggenheim in Hart Crane: A Life, says the sea was "like a mirror that could be walked on."
I changed my "glassy sea" to a "violent wake" (the wake, some think, dragged Crane under). On balance, however, the "glassy sea" seems likely."
(One further biography that Logan fails to cite here is John Unterecker's Voyager (1969), the standard biography for years, now, like Horton, pretty much superseded by Fisher and Mariani).
Logan’s essay and opinions have sparked more than a little controversy, Neal Hampton, in a published letter takes the reviewer to task for the “bitter and parochial tone of his attacks” and his “manifest prejudice". Likewise, Marjorie Perloff.
For a more nuanced and understanding appreciation of Hart Crane, one could do worse than to go to Robert Creeley’s informed observations here and here. Not to mention, returning to the poems themselves - "How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest/The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him.."

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