Monday, January 30, 2006

Re Verse: Essays On Poetry and Poets. David R. Slavitt (Northwestern University Press Evanston, Illinois 60208-4170) $25

I am a sucker for anecdotes. And poet, translator, educator, David Slavitt knows how to tell a story. I met him when he was running for state representative against Tim Toomey. Of course Slavitt was trounced, but I found him a brilliant, charming, and a loquacious character.And since I am an old English major I was glad to get this collection of essays by Slavitt, “Re Verse: Essays on Poetry and Poets.” From looking at the title I was afraid the book would be dry as a spinster on Saturday night, but I was proven wrong. Slavitt offers up a very amusing and colorful memoir of poets he knew during his undergraduate years at Yale (in the 1950’s), and during his long career as a writer. In his essay: “Harold Bloom and the Decline of Civility,” Slavitt recounts the time when as a student at Yale, he met the caustic, young critic Harold Bloom, when Bloom was a mere teaching assistant. Slavitt remembers that Bloom was wearing “a deplorable tie,” and he asked Bloom what he was working on:

“Shelley.” he barked.

Slavitt informs the reader: “I behaved badly, I’m afraid. He was the most un-Shelleyan looking guy I had ever seen in my life. Curly Howard would have been a likelier enthusiast of the “Epipsychidion.” I laughed aloud, I am ashamed to say. Bloom looked hurt—he had the soulful eyes of a basset hound and they still have a baleful look to them.”

Slavitt was also a student of Robert Penn Warren. Even in those days Slavitt had a vast amount of chutzpah. He greatly admired Warren, but he panned his book, “Band of Angels,”
in the Yale student newspaper. He then had the temerity to ask Warren for his inscription in Slavitt’s copy of the book! And by George…he got it!

There are also some delicious accounts of a frosty Robert Frost, especially the time he trashed the poet Stephen Spender who was in the audience during Frost’s reading at Yale.

Slavitt is an engaging writer, and the book will be of interest to scholars and the less- studied of us, like your humble reviewer.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/Jan 2006

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