An American Voice
Complete Poems & Selected Letters
Library of America, $40, 864 pp.
With this volume, Hart Crane joins Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens in the Library of America publications of twentieth-century poets. Crane can be easily fitted into their eight-hundred-page format since his total poetic output, including unpublished poems, amounts to only a hundred and fifty pages; so the bulk of the volume is a very full selection of his letters, plus a few essays and reviews. Langdon Hammer, the editor, has not only written an excellent book on modernism in the works of Crane and his friend Allen Tate, but previously edited a handsome volume of Crane’s letters with generous commentary. Now he provides a useful and extensive chronology as well as pertinent biographical and textual notes. One couldn’t ask for a more compact and finished presentation of the poet who may be the most problematic of his contemporaries-Edwin Arlington Robinson, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and T. S. Eliot, along with those, mentioned above, already enshrined in the Library of America.
In his earlier book, Hammer says shrewdly that although Crane has been judged to be a major modern poet since around 1960, the many books of criticism written about his poetry have always felt the need to reintroduce him. (Probably the best of these books, by Warner Berthoff, is titled Hart Crane: A Re-Introduction.) This need, I should guess, has everything to do with the difficult brilliance any reader...
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About the Author
William H. Pritchard is the Henry Clay Folger Professor Emeritus of English at Amherst College. He is the author of Shelf Life: Literary Essays and Reviews (University of Massachusetts Press) among others.