Skip to main content

Eliot The Dunderhead?

As seen at the blog Harriet - a link to news that the great(est) American poet of the last century, Mr TS Eliot, had trouble at Harvard with his studies - in short, he got far fewer As and Bs than we might have expected.  Instead, the no doubt day-dreaming, perhaps anxious, maybe even sleepy, Mr Eliot, missed classes, got a D, and seemed to be on academic probation.  Mr Eliot, unique in being both a charlatan and a genius, often in the same essay, or sentence, was a master of verbal erudition that displayed more than it actually said - the reverse of subtext - he was the lord of the overtext.  He also abandoned his PhD work, and, famously, went on to work in a bank, edit books at Faber, pen essays, plays, and the most famous difficult poem of the last two centuries in English, and, win the Nobel Prize.  I too was a piss-poor undergrad student who got through on a wing and a prayer, as were (I would guess) several other poets.  Poets have a habit of missing deadlines, over-writing or under-writing essays, and crumpling up bits of paper in their pockets.  They sometimes drop out, or become professors.  Or not.  But it is charming to know that, 100 years ago this month, Old Possum was just a young dolt.

Comments

Brian Busby said…
Not just poets, I'm afraid. I, too, was a young dolt. How could doltage have been avoided? A young man, newly of drinking age, experiencing that first taste of independence, living in that first apartment (with visiting girlfriend)... it's a wonder I attended classes at all.

I'm betting this was a common experience.
Poetry Pleases! said…
Dear Todd

Attending Oxbridge has left me with a massive scepticism about formal education. Leaving university prematurely doesn't seem to have harmed characters like Bill Gates. Many of the most brilliant people I know either got thirds or dropped out altogether.

Best wishes from Simon

Popular posts from this blog

Review of the new Simple Minds album - Walk Between Worlds

Taste is a matter of opinion - or so goes one opinion. Aesthetics, a branch of pistols at dawn, is unlikely to become unruffled and resolved any time soon, and meantime it is possible to argue, in this post-post-modern age, an age of voter rage, that political opinion trumps taste anyway. We like what we say is art. And what we say is art is what likes us.

Simple Minds - the Scottish band founded around 1977 with the pale faces and beautiful cheekbones, and perfect indie hair cuts - comes from a time before that - from a Glasgow of poverty and working-class socialism, and religiosity, in a pre-Internet time when the heights of modernity were signalled by Kraftwerk, large synthesisers, and dancing like Bowie at 3 am in a Berlin club.

To say that early Simple Minds was mannered is like accusing Joyce of being experimental. Doh. The band sought to merge the icy innovations of German music with British and American pioneers of glam and proto-punk, like Iggy Pop; their heroes were contrived,…

THE WINNER OF THE SIXTH FORTNIGHT PRIZE IS...



Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.



Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
I becamea dot of sand

JOHN ASHBERY HAS DIED

With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.