Skip to main content


Good to see brilliant poet and scholar Ben Mazer get a review in a recent issue of the NYRB from Helen Vendler no less for his scholarly Collected John Crowe Ransom.

She admires Ben's editorial work but is almost comically prim in doling out praise to Ransom himself, who she seeks to place as resolutely minor-minor. Her understanding of his Christian ironies is oddly limited. For instance she asks what a poem that references roses and hay has to do with Christ? Anyone familiar with religious symbolism can answer that in seconds.

She claims it strange to title a book Poems About God in 1919; yet that collection is a collection of poems about religious belief. She later accuses Ransom of writing as God in "a language never heard on earth or heaven" which is a rather odd complaint. If God does not exist poets can surely invent any language they want for Her; if She does exist, explain Miltonic rhetoric as being any less eccentric?

Indeed, Vendler's main quarrel seems to be with modernism balanced by high lyrical modes and aims; Ransom's exquisite cruel ironies of diction which I love (primly propped) etc she reviles as inexpert or quaint. Well, no. Ransom was a very urbane agrarian indeed. His best poems show a mastery of style over content that Winters and Gunn would aspire to.

It is one of Vendler's faults to expect poetic diction to organically enact empirical equivalents (as in Heaney) but there is a poetics of style that sees the poem as its own end. Ransom can be read as a disciple of Pater or Wilde. He is certainly a pleasure to read. If he is minor I am happy to be of his party.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…


Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…


The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…