By Paul Mariani
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Extra info for A Usable Past: Essays on Modern and Contemporary Poetry
In the long empyrean view, as we turn the pages of our Nortons or other anthologies of American poetry and see Stevens and Williams and Pound and Eliot and Hart Crane enthroned side by side like larger-than-life Byzantine presences, none of this much matters. But in re-creating Williams's life, I learned early that all this of course does matter. It mattered because there was a political and social judgment implicit in telling the world that a poem could be made of anything. I have said it many times, as Williams reiterated toward the end of his life.
As wonderful as Merton's essays on Camus, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and the others are, it is in the Asian Journals that I believe the full flowering of Merton's spirituality is most evident, and my essay attempts to play the one stylethe intellectual signature of the literary essaysagainst the more deeply human style of the journals. Finally, a word about the essay on Robert Pack. For ten years now Page 12 Bob Pack and I have been reading and commenting on each other's work. I must confess that I did not come easily to Pack's kind of poetry.
And if Tomlinson has learned much from his American teachersWilliams, Stevens, Marianne Moore, and Ezra Pound among themwe Americans have much to learn from him about precision of image and word, the values of discretion, and a sense of poetic civility that Yeats for one would have appreciated. One of the questions that has preoccupied me over the past decade is what to make of the contours of the Williams tradition. The Tomlinson essay itself originally grew out of that impetus, and the Creeley essay, originally commissioned for a special number of Boundary 2 devoted to Creeley, is a continuation of that interest.