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From the Archive: Daryl Hine


"Confronted by the paradox of free/Verse, I trade my meaning for a rhyme," wrote Daryl Hine in "A B.C. Diary," a poem published in the 1975 collection Resident Alien. Indeed, over the course of his career Hine has probably traded a great many things to experience the sheer delight of rhyming. More than any other quality his work demonstrates attention to and mastery of form.

First published at age fifteen and then widely by his mid-twenties, the precocious Canadian-born poet was singled-out early on as a wunderkind, virtuosic with language. At McGill University Hine studied classics and philosophy, and then spent four years in Paris, after which he worked as a free-lance editor in New York. In 1963 he settled at the University of Chicago where he received both an M.A. and doctorate in comparative literature, completing his dissertation on the Latin poetry of Scottish humanist George Buchanan. By the time he met fellow-teacher and Poetry magazine editor Henry Rago (1962-1968), he had already published several collections of poetry and translations. Hine had little editorial experience but his strong classical background and publishing success impressed Rago, who asked him to serve as visiting editor while Rago took time off to write and travel. A few months into that term Henry Rago resigned, leaving the thirty-two year-old at Poetry's helm, where he remained for the next ten years.

One of the first alterations Daryl Hine made to the magazine was a visual one. He retired the cover, a cursive-style image of Pegasus drawn by Juliet Rago (Henry's wife), and hired Virgil Burnett as the publication's first ever art director. Instead of a fixed cover, there was a new line drawing or piece of artwork every month. The paper stock was also changed, so that the magazine not only looked, but also felt, different. While these modifications were generally well received and considered appealing from a marketing standpoint, Hine's leadership elicited contention in other areas.

Hine's time at Poetry coincided with significant political and social tumult, which inevitably permeated the magazine's pages. While his own poetry was strictly formalist and rich with erudite cultural references, his contemporaries often sacrificed or disdained form. The term "free verse" was commingled with the idea of political liberation, while formalists were associated with political conservatism. So while Hine's own political leanings were actually quite liberal, he was often accused of harboring an editorial bias against the more fashionable formless poetry championed by a movement of countercultural poets. One of the most controversial pieces Hine ever ran was a review of an anthology of this kind of work, Naked Poetry. Published in April 1970 and written by his good friend Howard Nemerov, the review condemned the anthology with gleeful ferocity: " . . . so much of it is so humorlessly earnest, and so much of it, new as it is, so earnestly derivative. The Blake-fakery! the Whitmania! the riggish ved-antic! the sutras have come unstitched! Naked Poetry forsooth . . . And why go naked if you aren't beautiful? I think I'll go read some clothed couplets, especially if they have sweet disorder in the dress."

In a personal letter written on October 14, 1969, Hine thanked Nemerov for this review and voiced his support of the indictments. But whatever Hine's personal feelings, his editorial decisions demonstrated a commitment to balance. Back-to-back with the Nemerov piece, the magazine ran a negative review of a book of formal verse by L.E. Sissman, Scattered Returns. That review probably caused as much consternation as Nemerov's, and though Hine said later that he regretted running it, the juxtaposition of the two pieces is representative of Hine's attempts to present a full spectrum of voices. In fact, Hine published both established and new voices, and was the first Poetry editor to break the magazine's tradition of political neutrality. He sent out a letter soliciting two hundred poets to write anti-war declarations, concluding it with the words "Poetry is a matter of life and death." Twenty-seven of those poems were published in the Against the War issue of September 1972, featuring a black cover with black, letter-pressed text. Even so, Robert Bly wrote an article in the American Poetry Review (September/October, 1973) accusing Hine of having "Nixonized" the magazine.

Daryl Hine's work as both an editor and writer demonstrates his range of vision. Though his early poems dealt abstractly with subject matter, over the decades he has experimented with near-autobiographical themes and narratives: he has delved into painful memories of childhood, recounted spiritual quests, and confronted his homosexuality. He has also continued his distinguished career as a translator. His latest book, Recollected Poems 1951-2004, is divided into four parts: art, love, place and time.





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Originally Published: January 1, 2008

COMMENTS (1)

On December 4, 2010 at 5:28pm Michael Tessman wrote:
In the second paragraph, Henry Rago's dates as editor are incorrect (1962-68), unless this refers to something else. It is, in any case not clear that his editorship, as you know, was from 1955-1969.

Thank you for making the correction.

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