Sep 27, 2007

Someone on a Quest Finds “Quest”

Another blogger has written of his discovery of the seminal poetry anthology Yvor Winters edited in the final years of his life, Quest for Reality. I have mentioned this blogger before, a fellow named Patrick Kurp, author of the blog "Anecdotal Evidence." I have mentioned or discussed Quest for Reality many times on this blog and on my Yvor Winters web site. Krup's discussion of his discovery of this anthology can be found at:

Quest was not published until 1968, some months after Winters’s death, as a companion to his final work of criticism, Forms of Discovery. As fine as it is, Quest gets little attention because Forms is probably the least admired of Winters’s major works of criticism -- which is saying a lot, since almost nothing he ever wrote is widely admired or broadly influential. Naturally, it is always nice to see someone making the discovery I made myself so long ago, back in the mid-1970s when I was in college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Quest is a selection of 185 English language poems written from the mid-1500s to the mid-1960os, but it is a downright bewildering selection if you know nothing of Winters’s critical ideas. Many almost wholly unknown poems appear in it, and many of the poems written by well-known poets seem obscure as well. And yet, there are a few rather famous poems in it as well. What does this selection mean and what were its criteria? It makes almost no immediate sense whatsoever without the introduction, written by one-time Winters student Ken Fields, who is still a professor at Stanford University, where Winters was a professor for more than 30 years.

Fields wrote that Winters and he considered these the most “remarkable” poems in the language (a characterization of the selection that I must discuss on this blog some time soon). Fields’s explanation of what that word “remarkable” means is less than perfectly clear, in my estimation, but his discussion serves well enough for those new to Winters’s literary thought. To fully appreciate the anthology, you should read it in tandem with Forms of Discovery, which makes much clearer what this truly oddball collection is all about. Click on the definition of "Winters Canon" in the right hand column of this blog for a bit more information on my understanding of the purpose of Quest for Reality and the role the anthology plays in the study of Winters.

It might be good here to reprint what I wrote on about Quest for Reality back in 2000:

The Greatest Poems of All Time, November 28, 2000

Ben Kilpela

Yvor Winters (1900-1968) decided to illustrate by example what he thought are the greatest poems ever written in English. So here they reside, 185 of them. A few, very few, will be well known to readers of poetry; most are puzzlingly obscure. All but a handful (in my view) are so great that it takes one's breath away to read them. Reading them almost makes for mystical experiences. Among the poems that the common critics have missed but Winters found and championed to his dying day are Jonson's "To Heaven," Herbert's "Church Monuments," Very's "Thy Brother's Blood," Winters's own "To the Holy Spirit," and Bowers's "The Astronomers of Mont Blanc." There are many, many more, but these five are probably the greatest of the greats. This is, simply put, the greatest book of poetry ever published in English. If you love poetry, you must find or own a copy. Don't be surprised though. All but a few of the poems are in metrical verse, and they have almost nothing to do with modern "expressivism", the solipsitic "emoting" that passes for good poetry in the tiresome modern age. Here, not a word is wasted, not a phrase is trivial. Every syllable, every beat of every line, counts toward the rational understanding of the human mind and spirit and the proper adjusting of our emotions to that rational understanding. The book contains an excellent introductory essay by a Winters student, Kenneth Fields, who lays out the principles of selection briefly and incisively. In itself, that essay is one of the best introductions to poetry ever written and alone will be worth all the effort you make in finding this out-of-print book. Winters has done something here that every critic should: show us the results of his theories. What a great work of poetic literature.
That remains a fair summary of my views. Perhaps I worked myself up a little too much for that review, but my judgments generally still hold. The five greatest poems I selected then might not ride quite as high ABOVE many of the others in Quest as I once thought, but this requires no more than a minor adjustment to what I wrote. I judge each of those five poems as great and would still say that the Winters poem is the greatest in English, as I have posted on a British poetry site. But these five are not significantly greater than several dozen poems in Quest. My opinion of Fields’s “Introduction” is a little lower, too.

Overall, the issue still stands, even among Wintersians, as to how exactly these poems as a group should be taken. Are they notable examples of excellent poetic style? Examples of a highly admirable approach to poetry, or perhaps even the “best” approach to poetic composition? Are they Yvor Winters’s greatest poems? Does anyone agree that they should be pronounced THE truly great poems of our language? I am at work, step by step, on a broad discussion of this issue on this blog, especially in my effort to re-evaluate all 185 poems found in Quest, one by one. Here I will say that it appears that I stand almost entirely alone on taking these poems as Winters’s greatest poems -- and alone also in judging most of them to be, truly, our greatest poems. Even dedicated Wintersians, of which there are very few, have generally sided with the view that these poems are no more than supreme examples of poetic style.

I should mention John Fraser’s objection to my take on Quest. Fraser is a fine critic who wrote soundly about Winters in the Southern Review a few times in the 1970s and published online in the 2000s a new Wintersian anthology of poems I have discussed several times on this blog, A New Book of Verse (a link is in the right hand column). Fraser has corrected me with good reason that Winters did not consider some of the poems he chose for Quest to be “great” as such, but rather as very good poems of exemplary style that have been ignored or almost totally forgotten. Winters wanted to make sure these poems were remembered, studied anew, and perhaps imitated (in the broadest sense of that word). In my judgment, Fraser is right about this, and I am trying in my ongoing study of the Winters Canon on this blog to lay out which poems Winters judged great (most of them) and which he judged so good but so long forgotten that they need rescuing from oblivion (as most of them still do).

Concerning those pronouncements of greatness, Winters had big objectives and made big claims. And now I’m making them again, or at least giving them a good hearing, for the first time by anyone, professional critic or not (whatever “professional” might mean), since Quest was published. Yet I’m making such claims on the Internet, which is cause for concern, I know. As Mike Royko, the newspaper columnist, has said, "It's been my policy to view the Internet not as an 'information highway,' but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies." I know online endeavors like this blog are questionable just because of the venue, as opposed to paid and peer-reviewed publication. I could very well be a babbling loony, unknown as such even to myself. But at least my views are fully open to debate, questioning, and challenge by anyone who wishes to weigh in. The number of people who have wished to do so in the one year this blog has been online is exactly... drum roll, please...


You can make of that fact what you will.

Sep 20, 2007

More on Blurbing

In a post on misblurbing from this past spring, I mentioned some of Yvor Winters’s issues with blurbs. To be more specific, Winters was a critic who offered many a suspicious “blurb,” his succinct, seemingly half-crazed judgments that this or that obscure poem or poet is one of the all-time greats. In the course of that post, I quoted a Winters’s “blurb” on Charles Churchill from early in his career. Churchill (who is pictured) remains a relatively unknown poet who was a contemporary of Alexander Pope’s. Winters judged Churchill a greater poet than Pope; in fact, he considered him one of the greats of our language mostly for one poem that remains almost wholly unknown even among students of literature, “The Dedication to Warburton.” Winters’s judgment of Churchill came to mind once again recently because I ran across a comment about Winters’s Churchill “blurbs” by the English formalist poet Donald Davie in his memoir These the Companions. Davie is not a Wintersian, in my view, but he has long been attracted to Winters’s ideas and poetry, as well as to the work of Janet Lewis and some of those he considers Wintersians, in the loosest sense. Davie has called Winters a Puritan, speaking positively it seems, since Davie himself has striven throughout his career to re-establish formalism as a norm in contemporary poetry.

Here is Davie’s comment about Winters’s blurbs on Charles Churchill:

Neither of my chosen mentors, F.R. Leavis nor later Yvor Winters, had much to say about the eighteenth century. And that, I came to see, was a distinct advantage; here was a field in which I could dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s of their respective judgments, could as it were amplify and extend them without, except by the remotest implication, challenging them. In this there was much dishonesty. Winters by the end of his life, following through with characteristic forthrightness on an entirely reasonable objection to the epistemology of John Locke, was advancing one of the boldest and silliest of all critical verdicts -- that of eighteenth century poets in the English language the one that most deserved remembering was... Charles Churchill! He really meant this nonsensical judgment, as he meant every judgment that he ever pronounced. And it was less than honest to pretend that there was margin for civil disagreement, where in fact there wasn’t.

The last two sentences amount to a blurb in themselves, a strongly negative one in this case, and one sharply dismissive of Winters’s views. Yet there are a few difficulties with Davie’s blurb. First, it leaves the impression that Winters was obsessed with Churchill. This is not so. Winters did write a lengthy essay about Churchill that focused on “The Dedication” late in his life, in what appears to have been a final, rigorous attempt to earn his view of Churchill a wider hearing (the attempt has utterly failed, I must admit). But Churchill did not occupy the center of his attention at any time in his career. Second, Davie’s blurb also leaves the faint impression that Winters’s judgment of Churchill was some half-crazed late development in Winters’s thought. But this also is not so. Winters wrote of Churchill several times in his career and mentioned “The Dedication” here and there. He wrote on Churchill’s work in heroic couplets, furthermore, in some of his earliest work, in his doctoral dissertation that became, after much editing and some expanding, his first book, Primitivism and Decadence. Winters always praised “The Dedication” very highly, even in essays and letters written rather early in his career. Back in the 30s he sometimes listed it among the greats.

Third, and more importantly, Davie (and many others, including David Yezzi in a prominent 1997 essay in the New Criterion) have expressed their incredulity that Winters judged Churchill so highly and have made it clear that they consider that judgment to be, at best, cracked. But no one has offered a thorough critique, or even ANY sort of critique, of Winters’s essay on Churchill or of his case for the greatness of “The Dedication” -- or even tried to briefly explain why he thinks Churchill is NOT deserving of the status Winters sought for him. The critics who have bothered with the issue usually merely censor Winters with words like Davie’s: “nonsensical” and “silliest.” But such empty gibes and jabs do not constitute a sound case, or any case at all, against Winters’s views on Churchill. In his 1960 essay Winters laid out a thorough and compelling rationale in favor of Churchill’s poetry and of “The Dedication” in particular. If someone disagrees with that judgment, it falls on him to show wherein Winters was wrong or skewed. Tossing out one-word censures accomplishes nothing.

Let’s take a quick look at some of what Winters wrote about Churchill. This passage is from Primitivism and Decadence and from “Section V: The Heroic Couplet and Its Recent Rivals”:

This sort of thing [found in Churchill’s poem “The Candidate”], to the best of my knowledge, had never been done before; and to the best of my knowledge no one has ever pointed out that Churchill did it; Churchill, like Gascoigne at an earlier period and like Johnson in his own, was a great master obscured by history, that is, by the mummification, for purposes of immortal exhibition, of a current fashion -- Gray and Collins, slighter poets in spite of all their virtues, were of the party that produced the style of the next century and they have come to be regarded, for this reason, as the best poets of their period. We have not in “The Candidate” the mock-heroic convention of “MacFlecknoe” or of “Hudibras,” which, though it involves feigned praise, is frank burlesque. It is closer to a quality of Pope, to which I have already referred, but it is ironical rather than epigrammatical; it is more evasive, less didactic or illustrative of the general, more personal, closer to the sophisticated lyrical tradition of such writers as Gascoigne, Ben Jonson, and Donne. Churchill, in his ambiguous territory between irony and eulogy, awakened a number of feelings belonging neither to irony nor to eulogy, but capable of joining with both, and the most perfect example of the junction may be found in his greatest poem, the posthumous “Dedication to Warburton.”

Well, that (a passage written in the early 1930s) certainly sounds half cracked, don’t it? Sounds too like a man who late in life went so far out of his head that he offered yet another and even more bizarre opinion, don’t it? I guess you can see that I think Donald Davie is way off base. Yet Davie is not alone in refusing to give Winters a hearing on Churchill. Since 1930, no Wintersian I know of has yet to re-assess Churchill in light of Winters’s studies of him. Not even a Wintersian as insightful and as sympathetic as Dick Davis -- whose superb study of Winters, Wisdom and Wilderness (1983), remains essential reading for anyone drawn to Winters -- could be bothered with a consideration of his longstanding judgment of Churchill. Rather, Davis thought that Winters had painted himself into a “lonely corner” with judgments like the one concerning Churchill. For his part, Davis, I would guess, probably did not want to take the chance of watching himself get painted into a similar corner by even considering whether Winters might have been right -- and one could hardly blame him for that, considering Winters's reputation. I think the time has long since passed that Winters’s views on Churchill should be examined out of intellectual respect for everything Winters accomplished. I guess the task falls to me, if I recognize the need, and I will take the matter up when we get to Churchill as I review the Winters Canon poem by poem.

Perhaps it’s true that Churchill shouldn’t matter. Everyone sometimes feels the need to accept and acknowledge that thinkers and writers whom we most admire, from time to time, do, simply, get things badly wrong. Just this, for instance, happened this summer when Carlin Romano, a philosophy and media theory professor at the University of Pennsylvania who writes regularly for the Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote about some of the good ideas of that wacky devotee of anthroposophy, Rudolph Steiner, in the Chronicle Review (5/18/07):

Perhaps, as [Saul] Bellow's whirlwind romance with anthroposophy indicated, there's a place for all-inclusive thinkers who invite people with precise intellectual and emotional needs to wander and ponder on their grounds. In his advocacy of a kindly balance between the natural and spiritual, a harmony of the whole person, Steiner sometimes resembled an occultist Aristotle, a spiritualist Sartre. He remains a bulwark, for those comfortable entering his compound, against modern naturalists who want to dissolve the "I" of consciousness into a software program.

So what if he thought that we all had telepathic powers in the "Old Moon" past, that kids shouldn't be taught to read until they lose their first teeth, that Atlantis figures mightily in the history of Western culture? Nobody's perfect.

Perhaps that’s the best I should hope can be said, with a shrug of the shoulders, about Winters’s views of Churchill and many another view nowadays: “Nobody’s perfect.” Perhaps they’re not worth bothering about. Maybe Churchill cannot or should not be rescued or raised to the heights of admiration or given much greater attention in our criticism. Maybe. But I think, in light of Winters’s considerable achievement, that a strong and sound case is required for us to set Winter’s views on Churchill aside. Winters made his sound case for Churchill. Someone has to answer it with equal adroitness for it to be written off to nobody’s being perfect. Calling his views names is simple intellectual myopia.

Before moving on, I can’t resist commenting on another swipe Davie takes at Winters in the passage I have quoted. On the question of whether Winters thought there was margin for civil disagreement on such matters, which is meant, I take it, to give him a good thump because there was in fact no such margin, I refer the reader to Winters’s earlier writings and letters, in which he leaves plenty of room for debate. Further, it’s strangely hypocritical, isn’t it?, that Davie smugly tries to thump Winters for supposedly brooking no disagreement, but then allows no room for disagreement himself by declaring Winters’s judgment about Churchill to be nonsensical -- and it’s even stranger, and sillier, that Davie, in contrast to Winters, makes no case for his own judgment of Churchill, by which his readers might judge the merits of Davie’s view of Winters or of Davie himself as a critic.

These are old issues, of course -- and small ones, too, I admit. But in most cases I feel a need to counter these stubborn misconceptions about Winters’s ideas that writers and critics have been batting around for decades without reply. I have engaged this blog in that work, which someone should have taken up long ago.

Sep 13, 2007

It’s` A|bout` Time`` for an Ed`|u|ca`|tion in Pro``|so|dy`

The 92nd Street Y in New York City has announced a class on prosody, the study of poetic meter, to be conducted by New Criterion poetry editor David Yezzi. The New Criterion is the only national general-readership journal that nowadays publishes or extensively discusses what is called formalist poetry (that irritating modern redundancy), and Yezzi is a poet-critic who has done some good work in trying to entice more poets into returning to formalism and the use of logical structures and in informing poetry readers about accomplished or promising formalist poets. He has even written on Yvor Winters a couple times over the past decade, writings that I intend to study closely in the months ahead on this blog. I’d love to hear from anyone about Yezzi’s class once it gets going in October. (Did you notice the sprung rhythm in my post’s title? I did my best making stress marks in my title. Pictured, by the way, is a prosodic read-out of an English sentence spoken in two ways.)

I must disclose that I learned of the class from New Criterion’s blog, entitled “Arma Virumque.” The blog post on Yezzi’s class gives you a link to Tim Steele’s piece on prosody that was published on a year or so ago, which I have also been intending to take a closer look at some time soon. Steele is a poet who has written a great deal of value on the decline of traditional forms in modern poetry. One of the finest books ever written on the subject, Steele’s Missing Measures, I highly recommend. It was recommended to me personally by Janet Lewis, Yvor Winters’s wife, some 20 years ago.

There are many published testimonies from Winters’s students that repeat the opinion that Winters’s teaching on poetic form and prosody was outstanding, even life-changing for some. Many who took classes with Winters believe, as they have said in print, that his greatest achievement was his work in prosody. In his formal writings, you can find most of what he taught -- or so I surmise from studying his students’ writings about his teaching -- in his first book, Primitivism and Decadence, which is reprinted in In Defense of Reason, Winters’s best-known book, which remains in print through the Ohio University Press:

OUP also published Tim Steele’s newer, lighter book on prosody, All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing, which seems intended for a much wider audience than his earlier, more scholarly work. (That title might be passable iambic pentameter but is rather a weak one for a couple reasons, in my opinion.) That book is yet another one (Sheesh!) I have to discuss on the blog.

Sep 6, 2007

An Edition of Donald Stanford’s Poems

Time is always passing, the years drift by, and many projects are left undone and ideas left unfulfilled. One matter that I have neglected discussing for years on my Winters web site and now on this Winters Blog is a recent edition of the collected poetry of Donald Stanford, which came out already some four years ago. This work, however, deserves the close attention of those committed to classicism in literature, however belated this post might be.

I have frequently mentioned and highly praised the criticism and career of Donald Stanford on this blog in its inaugural year. Stanford, who died in 1998 at the age of 85, was a longtime professor of English at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and the co-editor of the prestigious Southern Review, Second Series between 1965 and 1982. I have opined that Stanford was probably our finest Wintersian. He wrote a brilliant book on modern poetry from the view of what I would term a Wintersian classicist, Revolution and Convention in Modern Poetry, which remains in print, though I don’t know how long it will remain so.

The news I have neglected is that four years ago the Edwin Mellen Press of Great Britain published the first edition of Donald Stanford’s collected poems. I have had a heckuva time trying to find this book in the United States at a price of less than $100, which seems quite steep. Further, I haven’t had any success finding a library in my lending network to give me a look at it, though I see that it’s available at the LSU Library in Special Collections. I can’t guess why the book was published in Britain in addition to the U.S. The editor, who has edited other works by and about Stanford, is an LSU professor, the same university at which Stanford taught. I do not know of Stanford’s having any particularly strong influence in British literary culture. I suspect that he does not.

The book is entitled The Complete Poems of American Poet Donald E. Stanford, 1913-1998, edited with textual notes and an introduction by R.W. Crump. The book purports to be the first complete collection of Don Stanford’s poems, including the three chapbooks he published, his privately printed poems, and all the extant manuscript poems never before published. According to Mellen Press, the textual notes list all the authorial versions, the basic text and all the variant readings. The book also offers tables of Stanford’s editions and collections and their tables of contents, and the appendices reportedly provide some of Stanford’s statements about his life and poetry. The collection’s “Preface” is by David Middleton, a fine formalist poet and scholar in his own right. Middleton wrote a few reviews and poems for the Southern Review during Stanford’s tenure as co-editor. The “Preface” reportedly places Stanford’s poetry in historical perspective and discusses the virtues of his poetic theory and practice.

If you wish to find out a little more about Donald Stanford before I have a chance to discuss him at length on this blog, I suggest LSU’s notice about Stanford’s death, which is still available on line at:

The web site of the Mellen Press includes a couple short reviews, none of which, as far as I can tell, was published in the United States. The book’s six appendices reportedly include Yvor Winters’s fascinating “Foreword” to Stanford’s first published collection, New England Earth and Other Poems (this short essay was also reprinted in The Uncollected Essays and Reviews of Yvor Winters), as well as a formerly unpublished, but undoubtedly helpful statement of Stanford’s about the school of poetry he belonged to and excerpts from two interviews he gave. A fellow named John R. May writes on the book’s web site, “Professor Crump proves here once again that she is a masterful textual editor. The artistry of her work is apparent throughout this volume -- a profound concern for the purity of the text that serves at every turn the transcendence of the poetry itself.”

Reportedly, the number of Stanford’s poems available has been doubled with the collection, and the web site claims that much of this unknown work represents Stanford at his strongest. But whether the release of the “new” poems is an important event remains to be seen. I have discovered no reviews of the collection anywhere and no discussion of it on any web site. Mellen Press also boasts of Crump’s presenting Stanford’s poems to us with great care, bringing us “closer to the poems and the poet.” William Bedford Clark writes that he “would be remiss if I did not also call attention to David Middleton’s remarkably astute preface, which will serve as both an impetus and model for future commentary on Stanford as poet.”

I consider it nearly unconscionable that the Southern Review has not seen fit to publish a review of this collection and downright ridiculous that no academic library in the Midwest network has a copy of this book. Stanford, whatever one’s opinion of his Wintersian criticism might be, was an able scholar and a fine poet who had a great love of literature and stood at the helm of the prominent Southern Review for more than 25 years. I will be working to find this book somewhere at a reasonable price. Stanford devoted his career to the furtherance of the modern classicism that Yvor Winters brought to the fore and defended so ably. We might take Stanford’s description of the basic literary principles of E. A. Robinson (from his book Revolution and Convention) as a rough description of his own Wintersian classicism:

Robinson’s approach to literature and life is primarily rational; intuition and emotion are seldom exalted above reason. His poetry usually has substantial paraphrasable content and strives to communicate rightness of feeling rather than intensity of feeling, the feeling being achieved in part and controlled by the effective use of conventional prosody and conventional poetic forms. Usually he employs the traditional iambic line. His poems have unity, coherence, and a logical structure that is appropriate for the material but is not organically determined by it. The style at its best is impersonal, simple in diction, non-rhetorical, and without excessive ornamentation. (Emphasis Stanford’s.)

Before I get my hands on a copy of this work, I conclude by noting that John Fraser, editor of the important anthology A New Book of Verse (which I have been discussing from time to time on this blog and which began as a collaboration with Stanford, as explained in Fraser’s introduction) chose two of Stanford’s poems for that anthology, a choice which implies, it could be, that Fraser considers them particularly fine examples of modern classicism. (Still, exactly how we should understand Fraser’s choices is a matter for some debate, which I will get to some time.) I offer the two poems below, which Fraser reprints online without apparent permissions.

The Cartesian Lawnmower

The wandering vast unbounded green
Perplexes the intense machine.
I watch, I listen and hear more
Than mathematics in its roar.

But it rolls on, and like a pall
The towering weeds and grasses fall
Till each particular blade or spike
In essence different looks alike.

But there’s a spot it has to pass
Where weeds are thicker than the grass,
And on that spot it’s ill at ease.
With less a roar and more a wheeze,

With less a wheeze it grunts and pops,
And then ridiculously stops,
Until at last the tense machine
Is merged with an intenser green.

This first poem is a very complex, yet playful meditation upon the nature of human experience, as signaled by the title and a couple of words in the body of the poem, “mathematics,” and “essence.” It reminds me quite strongly of many playful-but-deadly-serious poems by J.V. Cunningham. It’s an elegant and even comic rumination. Indeed, it’s almost light verse in the way it employs a somewhat unexpectedly impish vehicle to study the profound subject matter. I will be examining this poem more closely in the future. I would say, off hand, that it is a very fine piece of work, though not deserving of the status of “great” (as Fraser could be suggesting that it should).

The Bee

No more through summer’s haze I see,
In sunlight like a flash of spume,
The resolute and angry bee
Emerging from a flood of bloom.

The bee is quiet in her hive.
The earth is colorless and bare.
The veins of every leaf alive
Have stiffened in the altered air.

This poem seems a little too simple for inclusion in Fraser’s anthology, again without making any final call about what that anthology’s purpose is. It’s a minor and rather conventional, if masterly, meditation on death. It’s not a great poem, but it is a fine one, written with superb style and consummate control. One has to wonder whether Stanford saw himself, like his bee, as “resolute and angry” in the face of death.

Finally, there might a continuing need for a disclaimer on one particular matter. Readers want reassurance that no author or critic takes every word and idea of someone other author or critic as pure GOSPEL. If an author leaves that impression, he loses a great deal of credibility; he doesn’t seem to be truly thinking – which, I might point out, is not a logical argument in itself. But, alas, I must follow the common modern practice and make the compulsory disclaimer in order to have any hope of getting a hearing for Donald Stanford -- or Yvor Winters, for that matter. Here it is: I do not take Winters or Stanford (or anyone) as pure Gospel.

To demonstrate this, I want to relate one disagreement I have with Stanford’s critical views, among several. Stanford was a strong and convincing advocate of the fiction of Caroline Gordon, wife of Allen Tate, during the period of his editorship of the Southern Review. I read somewhere in SR that he considered Aleck Maury, Sportsman, a rather obscure piece that I have never read about in any other venue anywhere in the world of letters, to be Gordon’s finest novel. I have tried reading just about everything Winters or one of his advocates or adherents have ever recommended as important or worthwhile, and I have been repeatedly rewarded with one splendid discovery after another. One of those discoveries, thanks to Donald Stanford, was the work of Caroline Gordon, who has written a number of fine novels that have been neglected or forgotten for far too long (yet another matter that I should get to some time on this blog -- the list of tasks ever lengthens!). But I must disagree, respectfully, with Stanford’s judgment of Aleck Maury. This episodic novel has very little to say and is not even particularly well written. It’s an overlong fictional chronicle of the uninteresting, trifling life of a college professor who has a passion for hunting and fishing. It tells us very little about any significant aspect of human experience. This almost trivial work is far from Gordon’s best piece. It’s not even notably good in any of its major aspects, not in narrative structure, writing style, or themes. I have not often been let down by a recommendation from Winters or a Wintersian, but Stanford’s accolade for Aleck Maury was one of the biggest disappointments that I can recall. Still, those who found A River Runs Through It, the popular novel and movie about fly-fishing, worthwhile, might find something valuable in the turgid Aleck Maury.