Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Neil Hampton
Dear Editor,

Although William Logan is entitled to his opinion of Hart Crane and has every right to defend these views, I take issue with the bitter and parochial tone of his attacks. Furthermore, “On Reviewing Hart Crane” seems more concerned with addressing superficial objections to the original article, rather than tackling its manifest prejudice.

Logan’s Times review was a lazy piece of character assassination, rather than an honest engagement with the poet’s work, taking issue with everything from Crane’s lack of formal education to his debauched lifestyle and homosexuality; even his spelling. These criticisms can be leveled against several of the most prominent names in the canon, including Poe, Byron, and, in the case of the last, the patriarchal Chaucer. Personally, I would much prefer it if Crane’s ideas were lifted from “the daily paper” or a “high-school history textbook,” but if they are, then I have yet to locate them there. I also disagree that the well-traveled, cosmopolitan Crane is “closer to a peasant poet like John Clare,” which is an example of the most ardent snobbery.

Logan’s formal criticisms of Crane included a vague complaint that the poems “showed more style than talent,” as well as the unsupported assertion that imagery such as “the pirouettes of any pliant cane” constitute deliberate “obscurity” and conspire to create a “dreadful mess.” In fact, the poem in question, “Chaplinesque,” employs very specific imagery in relation to its subject matter and is among the most linear and concrete examples of the poet’s work. In other places, Logan willfully misrepresents or else misunderstands Crane’s “logic of metaphor,” which focused on the sound and connotations of certain words, rather than their precise definitions; any unfavorable comparison with Eliot is thus necessarily void.

On the subject of “Chaplinesque,” I am also at a loss to understand why Logan chose Angelina Jolie as a suitable comparison for Charlie Chaplin in his discussion of the latter’s visit to the poet. One is a genius, an artist, and a genuinely talented dramatist, the other is Angelina Jolie. Such an obvious incongruity strikes me as
wholly unnecessary, except as a vulgar exercise in levity.

London, England

Originally Published: December 1, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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