Literary Awakenings, Courtesy of the Hudson Review – The Weekly Standard
I was most moved by the correspondence of a poet perhaps best known as a critic and teacher, Yvor Winters. During his career at Stanford, Winters taught a number of very excellent poets, like Thom Gunn, Robert Hass, and Robert Pinsky, who are proud to bear his stamp. Still, Winters was an acquired taste—a critic whose sharp temperament seemed to suggest a man standing high atop the Pacific cliffs shouting, important and useful things for sure, but still in the wind, much lost in the clamor and din of the 20th-century. His poetry is difficult, an idiosyncratic song, very fine but not sweet, which I hope he would think a compliment. I was struck by one letter he’d written after learning of his illness, when he confided in Mr. Morgan, much younger than Winters, that he thought perhaps his career, his work, his life hadn’t amounted to much. I wanted to tell him no, he was wrong. Over the great distance, the span of many years, I felt his crushing disappointment and wanted somehow to tell him how much he obviously meant, to others, and now to me. So I read him. I read everything by him, essays, poems, etc., by his students and his wife the poet and novelist Janet Lewis. For nearly a year I read nothing but Winters and his circle. To me, this was the study of literature, to follow the form it gives a life, and study what form that life in turn imposes on meaningful utterance, which is nothing but literature. My education was courtesy of one of the leading cultural institutions of the last seventy years—the Hudson Review.
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