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 peersincluding Bishop, Lowell, and Arendtin 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.
About 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.
Table of Contents
Antechapter: Randall Jarrell's Life
1: Jarrell's Interpersonal Style
2: Institutions, Professions, Criticism
3: Psychology and Psychoanalysis
4: Time and Memory
5: Childhood and Youth
6: Men, Women, Children, and Families
Conclusion: "What We See and Feel and Are"
What People are Saying About This
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.
Jarrell's well-deserved fame as a critic and a satiric novelist tended to obscure the appreciation of his gifts as a poet. Stephen Burt's unusually perceptive, knowledgeable, and elegantly written booka rare thing to come out of academic English departments these dayswill help focus critical and historical attention on his poems in themselves, as well as in relation to his prose work. An unusually sophisticated critic and an extraordinarily graceful writer.
A first-rate and provocative book. It is also a daring book, and it makes an original bet: that lyric poetrythat most inward of artscan be illuminated by considering sociological analyses that have been made of the era in which the poetry was written.