Saved for Jazz

David Trotter

  • Modernist Quartet by Frank Lentricchia
    Cambridge, 305 pp, £35.00, November 1994, ISBN 0 521 47004 8

There are some curious aspects to Frank Lentricchia’s study of four Modernist poets: T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. For a start, it’s a book about poets which doesn’t seem much interested in poems. Lentricchia has written a lengthy chapter on each member of his quartet. Yet Eliot is represented by ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and The Waste Land only, Stevens primarily by ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘The World as Meditation’, Frost by a handful of short poems; while the chapter on Pound devotes almost as much attention to an early polemical essay, ‘Patria Mia’, as it does to the Cantos. Of course, these are much-discussed writers, and it would be suicidally churlish to spurn new emphases. In a previous book about Stevens, Lentricchia upbraided Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler for ‘proceeding as if they had never read the poet’s letters and journals, or as if, having read them, they had come to the conclusion that the worldly life they found portrayed therein pertained to somebody else.’ But he sometimes proceeds as though he had never read anything else, and I began to wonder, during his substantial analysis of the poet’s views on shopping and interior decoration, whether Bloom and Vendler weren’t right to stick to the supreme fictions.

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