Sep 18, 2006

John Fraser’s “New Book of Verse”

For the launch of this first blog on the poetry and criticism of Yvor Winters, I believe that the first and most important matter for us to start with is John Fraser’s recent release on line of his New Book of Verse.

Fraser is a critic and writer who reviewed and highly praised Winters’s late critical work in the Southern Review back in the 60s and 70s, at the invitation of the late Donald Stanford, the erudite critic, editor, and professor who worked at Louisiana State University for much of his career. Stanford was a student of Winters in his graduate seminar at Stanford back in the 40s (if I recall correctly) and advanced Winters ideas in vital ways in his criticism and his fine editorial leadership at the Southern Review in the 60s and 70s.

I have long hoped that students of Winters (in the metaphorical sense of “student”) would begin the work of evaluating, revising, and expanding the “Winters Canon”, if any such actions are needed (a matter that could also be discussed). For the chief endeavor of Winters’s critical career was to discover and champion those works of literature, mostly in English poetry, that deserve to be called the greatest works of literary art, that should serve as models for poets and writers to follow, and that set the exalted standard by which we must judge all works of literature. An evaluation of Winters’s success in this important and valuable enterprise has long been needed. It has long been certain as well, in my judgment, that we need to begin looking at new or old work that might deserve to stand among the greats, if Winters has, in general, laid them out correctly.

Though I am given no credit in the book, I believe I did have a small hand in Fraser’s having put with his anthology on line at last, since I told Fraser via email, at the time I first put my Yvor Winters web site on line, that I wanted to see what I continue, somewhat stubbornly, to call the “Winters Canon” advanced, revised, and expanded, if needed. (In the Winters Canon, as explained on my Winters web site, are those works of poetry that Winters judged, with his customarily and justifiably severe restrictiveness, to be great, as most fully explicated in his last book Forms of Discovery and the companion poetry anthology Quest for Reality.

Quickly, I learned, Fraser didn’t enjoy talking with me by email all that much, for other reasons, but he followed up on my idea and came out with his New Book of Verse, which can be found at:

I urge everyone interested in Winters and the Wintersians who have followed him to start reading Fraser’s book so that we can begin discussing in this blog how much Fraser has gotten right with his new book. There is much to discuss. Overall, for example, there is the question of what Fraser has achieved. I remain unsure of what exactly Fraser meant to accomplish with this book, despite his directly asking and trying to answer that very question in his Introduction: “What were we up to in [making this anthology]? I can’t speak for Don [Stanford], since we didn’t talk theory at all, but I know what I myself was doing.” I intend to look closely at the issue of what this anthology means to Fraser and what it should mean to us all.

Hence, over the next few months, I plan on circling back again and again to the New Book of Verse to try to understand what Fraser and Stanford have done through it and what we can take from it. Whatever will be said along the way, I can say in advance that I consider John Fraser’s fine New Book of Verse to be one of the most important developments in the study of Winters and all of literature in two decades. The anthology is a wholly admirable undertaking, highly deserving of careful study and deep respect, regardless of one’s opinion of any of the particulars in the final result (which I hope we will discuss at length in this blog).

Thank you, John Fraser, for pressing on with this project. By the way, Fraser’s Introduction gives much more detail on the book’s genesis, though, as I say, I here claim a small part in bringing it to fruition these many years after Stanford and Fraser first had the idea and started work on it.

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