Sunday, February 11, 2007

Daniel Halpern's Letter to the NYT Book Review

Yes, I was happy to read the letters of Langdon Hammer and Daniel Halpern in this morning's New York Times Book Review, responding to William Logan's snark-filled commentary on Hart Crane: Complete Poem and Selected Letters (The Library of America, 2006).* The response of Hammer, the Yale University English professor who edited the Crane volume is, perhaps, predictable, if no less valid for that fact. More intriguing is the longer letter of Daniel Halpern, publisher of the Ecco Press and one of America's best (if sometimes, most overlooked) poets.

The entire letter is damning and true and worth your consideration, but let me give you a taste of it:

"Logan believes that 'The Library of America edition contains more of Crane than most readers will ever need,' but he also complains that 'the poems take up so little space.' Bad enough that he can't make up his mind regarding quantity and greatness, it would appear that his formula for greatness is somehow a function of drinking in moderation, securing employment, not cruising for sex (Logan is not beyond scolding the dead, complaining that Crane was involved with 'far too many sailors') and writing a lot: 'Crane left only two very short books and the shards of a third.' I guess that makes Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison, John Kennedy Toole, and Malcolm Lowry all failures for their dismal output.

"Maybe the problem here is the self-importance the critic accords himself, imagining that 'a hundred American poets will begin odes to Angelina Jolie' upon reading this review. Who's delusional now? And to compare Jolie to Chaplin causes a wonder of its own.

"Call me crazy or just another poetry publisher, but I have to believe people read reviews to find books to read, even books of poetry. Poetry is what people turn to during times of duress and celebration––marriage, death, 9/11––that is, our rites of passage. Logan's is a review riveted to the underbelly of the biographical, and to the poetry not at all. What is not addressed is the fact that we have here a celebration of an American original, memorialized by one of our most distinguished publishing imprints, the Library of America.

"The most surprising part of the review, however, is the fact that Logan has continued to review poetry. I would have thought he'd have followed his instincts long ago and found something more kindred to his soul."

Ouch.

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The original review, "Hart Crane's Bridge to Nowhere" appeared in the New York Times Book Review, January 28, 2007.

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