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Randall Jarrell and His Age

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Overview

Randall Jarrell (1914--1965) was the most influential poetry critic of his generation. He was also a lyric poet, comic novelist, translator, children's book author, and close friend of Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Hannah Arendt, and many other important writers of his time. Jarrell won the 1960 National Book Award for poetry and served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Amid the resurgence of interest in Randall Jarrell, Stephen Burt offers this brilliant analysis of the poet and essayist.

Burt's book examines all of Jarrell's work, incorporating new research based on previously undiscovered essays and poems. Other books have examined Jarrell's poetry in biographical or formal terms, but none have considered both his aesthetic choices and their social contexts. Beginning with an overview of Jarrell's life and loves, Burt argues that Jarrell's poetry responded to the political questions of the 1930s, the anxieties and social constraints of wartime America, and the apparent prosperity, domestic ideals, and professional ideology that characterized the 1950s. Jarrell's work is peopled by helpless soldiers, anxious suburban children, trapped housewives, and lonely consumers. Randall Jarrell and His Age situates the poet-critic among his peers -- including Bishop, Lowell, and Arendt -- in literature and cultural criticism. Burt considers the ways in which Jarrell's efforts and achievements encompassed the concerns of his time, from teen culture to World War II to the Cuban Missile Crisis; the book asks, too, how those efforts might speak to us now.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Review - Jacques Khalip

In his splendid book Randall Jarrell and His Age Stephen Burt finally answers the question 'Who was Randall Jarrell?' by setting his poems within several layers of aesthetic, social, and psychological contexts to not only illuminate the oeuvre but to better understand the complexity of Jarrell's own intellectual interventions in the cultural climate of America from the late 1930s through his death in 1965.

Magill's Literary Annual - Chuck Berg

Randall Jarrell and His Age is a sophisticated and scholarly treatment of an artist and his metier that will be best appreciated by serious and broadly read specialists.

Contemporary Literature - Edward Brunner

A study impressive for the intensity, detail, and subtlety of its readings...it is likely to be the definitive study of Jarrell for years to come

Louis Menand

Stephen Burt does Randall Jarrell the finest kind of critical justice.... There is sympathy here, and imagination, and just the right degree of intellectual detachment.

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Jarrell brooded endlessly on the crucial question of how to engage with life, but ultimately the capacity seemed to elude him. Burt traces, rather wonderfully, his obsession with youth, age and aging.

Poetry Review

The achievement of Stephen Burt's excellent book Randall Jarrell and His Age, is to show the true subtlty, strangeness, and deep feeling opened up by these apparently unpromising explorations of self and others in the bare style that was Jarrell's trademark.

PN Review

Burt helps us to dig out the shards that constitute Jarrell's poems and to make them speak of, and speak to, selves and others, in his age and ours.

Boston Review
In his splendid book Randall Jarrell and His Age Stephen Burt finally answers the question 'Who was Randall Jarrell?' by setting his poems within several layers of aesthetic, social, and psychological contexts to not only illuminate the oeuvre but to better understand the complexity of Jarrell's own intellectual interventions in the cultural climate of America from the late 1930s through his death in 1965.

— Jacques Khalip

Poetry

A book that pays Jarrell the tribute of placing his poetics front and center, dispensing with most of the trappings of biography and mythology.

Magill's Literary Annual
Randall Jarrell and His Age is a sophisticated and scholarly treatment of an artist and his metier that will be best appreciated by serious and broadly read specialists.

— Chuck Berg

Contemporary Literature
A study impressive for the intensity, detail, and subtlety of its readings...it is likely to be the definitive study of Jarrell for years to come

— Edward Brunner

The Los Angeles Times
intelligent and empathic—Stephen Burt
Publishers Weekly
Ordinarily, a book-length study of an American poet-critic almost 40 years dead isn't news, unless the poet-critic is T.S. Eliot. Yet this monograph from Burt is an exception. Burt (Popular Music) is one of the leading poet-critics of his own emerging generation, turning out an astonishing amount of terrific review-based criticism in places like the TLS and New York Times from his perch as an assistant professor of English at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. His project here is nothing less than the full-scale rehabilitation of Jarrell (1914-1965), who is best remembered for Poetry and the Age (1953), a series of essays that changed the way his contemporaries read Robert Frost (and told them how to read Robert Lowell, among other poets); his best-known poem is the searing "90 North," comparing self-exploration to polar exploration with magnificent results. Burt, playing off Jarrell's title, casts him as the product of an age preoccupied with Freud and Freudianism. Jarrell's particular psychological lens was developmental; he wrote numerous children's books, and his work expressed his "preoccupations with youth, age, and aging." After a preliminary biographical chapter, Burt traces Jarrell's elaboration of his major themes, tracking him through "Jarrell's Interpersonal Style," "Institutions, Professions, Criticism," "Men, Women, Children, Families" "Time and Memory" and other rubrics, bringing to bear a great deal of primary source social science that, as Burt shows, shaped Jarrell. Anyone with an interest in how the "Age of Anxiety" (an Auden poem Jarrell hated) expressed itself through one of its most sensitive souls will find this book a window into a lost intellectual world. (Jan.) Forecast: With blurbs from Louis Menand and Helen Vendler, this is not an ordinary first critical book from an assistant professor. Look for fans of Burt's poetry and review criticism to seek this one out, particularly given the steady release of new and reissued Jarrelliana.. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Burt (English, Macalester Coll.), author of an award-winning book of poetry as well as numerous essays on the subject, presents close readings of Jarrell's poetry and prose works, including his novel Pictures from an Institution and two of his children's books. After a brief biographical chapter, the critic examines the theme of self in Jarrell's poems, focusing on six approaches to this topic: the self as it depends on other selves, the self against society and institutions, psychoanalytic models of the self, the self in time, childhood and adolescence, and mothers, fathers, and families. This book began as a dissertation, and most nonscholars will find that the literary jargon can make for rough going; however, the frequent excerpts from Jarrell's poetry and prose, as well as the overviews of American culture and society during the three decades in which he flourished (from the 1940s to the mid-1960s) make this a required source for anyone doing research on the life and work of this noteworthy American poet and critic. For upper-level undergraduate and graduate collections.-Morris Hounion, New York City Coll. of Technology Lib., CUNY, Brooklyn
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231125956
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,454,575
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Burt is assistant professor of English at Macalester College. His essays on poets and poetry have appeared in the Boston Review, London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, and the Blackwell Companion to 20th Century Poetry, among other places. His book of poems, Popular Music, won the Colorado Prize for 1999.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

IntroductionAntechapter: Randall Jarrell's Life1: Jarrell's Interpersonal Style2: Institutions, Professions, Criticism3: Psychology and Psychoanalysis4: Time and Memory5: Childhood and Youth6: Men, Women, Children, and FamiliesConclusion: "What We See and Feel and Are"Index

Columbia University Press

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