From the Archive: Louise Bogan
"You have been dead a long season
And have less than desire
Who were lover with lover;
And I have life—that old reason
To wait for what comes,
To leave what is over."
—"To A Dead Lover," Poetry, August 1922
She often employed the structures and metaphysical conceits of poets from the 17th century—yet the subjects of her poems could hardly be more modern. Her writing, though restrained, is loaded with personal feeling—yet she disdained the "confessional" revelations of poets like Robert Lowell and John Berryman. A prestigious poet-critic for thirty years, she paved the way for other women to assume important roles in the literary world — yet she was condemned by some feminists for her emphasis on tradition and continuity within the poetic canon. Such paradoxes in the life of Louise Bogan may help explain her relative obscurity today.
While her contemporary Elizabeth Bishop (whose work also reflects Bogan's formal concerns and surface reserve) has enjoyed growing favor and publicity since her death, Bogan has drifted from the spotlight she held during her thirty-eight-year run as poetry reviewer for the The New Yorker. Her poetic output, slightly over 100 poems (almost identical to that of Bishop's) was disrupted by professional responsibilities and a seven-year creative dry spell during the height of her career. Some of the poems she published in Poetry, "Night" and "Putting to Sea" for example, reflect the tension Bogan felt between the necessity of making a living and the necessity of making art. Bogan tended to end her reviews in Poetry with an attempt at evaluating the poet's place in the 20th-century canon. Likewise, beneath the surface of her own poetry, one senses a constant awareness and even anxiety about creating a lasting aesthetic achievement. But Bogan's work is ultimately distinguished by its formal resistances to such anxiety and its refusals to succumb to the uncertainties of her personal life. Indeed, her best poems engage these uncertainties precisely to rise above them, to shape the chaos she experienced into memorable and lasting music.
With a book of her selected writings published in 2005 (A Poet's Prose, edited by Mary Kinzie) and a number of critical considerations of her work appearing in literary journals over the past few years, it seems that Louise Bogan is finally receiving the attention her achievement deserves. We remember her prolific forty-year relationship with Poetry with a selection of her poems mined from our archives.