My goal is certainly not to get everyone in the world, or even in the U.S., to agree that Winters is right or that the Winters Canon of greatest poems should be adopted, though the theory and practice of that canon are fine topics for discussion. As I have written before on this blog, there is no chance that literary culture in general will agree to the rightness of Winters’s ideas in my lifetime. But I do hope that, though they are few now, ever more readers and writers will undertake and advance the study of those ideas as they learn more about Winters, employ his theories and principles in new ways, and built out and up from his critical system.
This has already happened once in my lifetime, in LSU’s Southern Review in the 1960s and ‘70s. It was then that Professor Donald Stanford, during his editorship of that journal, fostered a Wintersian enclave in the form of a periodical that would publish writings about and in tune with Winters’s classicism. During Stanford’s tenure from 1965 to 1982, the Southern Review published dozens of poets and critics who analyzed and evaluated Winters’s critical ideas and wrote of and about and according to Wintersian classical principles. Writers and critics quickly disbanded the Southern Review “enclave” upon Stanford’s retirement from LSU in 1982. (I hope to do an overview of the Southern Review “enclave” some time -- yet one more matter to get to.)
There are now very few Wintersian writers left whom I am aware of. Poet Helen Pinkerton is still living and writing, though she is past 80 now. Poet John Finlay died more than two decades ago. Poet David Middleton, once Stanford’s student, is around and writing some poetry and some short essays, but he has not published a lot. Poet and critic Tim Steele has been in the game pitching from time to time, but he has not been devoted his latest work to classical principles (his main interests right now appear to lie with the New Formalism, which is certainly not a bad place for them to lie). I have discussed John Fraser's web site many times, and it deserves your careful reading for many reasons related to the study of Wuinters. I do not consider former Winters students Donald Hall, Robert Pinsky, and Robert Hass, though they are prominent in American literary culture, to be Wintersians -- or even classists of any kind. To their credit, Pinsky and Hall have dabbled in the New Formalism, but Hass is hardly a poet. I think of him as a prosetic muser.
Steele’s and Middleton’s work deserves more attention around here, along with Pinkerton’s latest book of poems, Taken in Faith, which is very fine (if not close to great). But what the study of Winters needs are more people writing in and telling me what they know, where the new Wintersian writers and critics might be (if there are any), and who is taking Winters seriously (and mostly positively or approvingly) in their writings. I hope as well that people will start responding on what I have been writing about. Or I invite you to offer suggestions about new topics, or to let me know about recent writings that should be taken note of for having some important relationship to Winters thought and poetry. Also, as always, I invite people willing to post on some aspect of Winters as well, though that, it seems, will take much longer.
I still hope for community through this blog -- or another blog or email list, if my methods do not appeal to enough people to get discussion on Yvor Winters started. My hope appears to be barren at the moment, but the time for a new enclave might come around again.
In my next post, I will review the recent writings on Winters that I am aware of and want to bring attention to and hope to comment upon in the months ahead.