CLEANTH BROOKS AND ALLEN TATE by Cleanth Brooks

CLEANTH BROOKS AND ALLEN TATE

Collected Letters, 1933-1976

KIRKUS REVIEW

An unremarkable correspondence between two remarkable southern men of letters at the forefronts of the New Critics and the Fugitive poets, respectively. Hopes for finding nascent critical insights and personal revelations quickly dim while reading over the shoulders of these two giants during four decades of friendship. As editor of the seminal Fugitive and a poet in the Agrarian movement, Tate had an established reputation when he first solicited an article from fellow Vanderbilt graduate Brooks, whose career had just begun to rise. Their early exchanges are only marginal to their assorted writings, however, and they switch mainly to topics of interest to mutual friends rather than posterity. Thus, one finds the ordinary dynamics of academic careers—who’s on top at Louisiana State University, which graduate protÇgÇ needs a lectureship, what permissions are cleared for which anthology—and the internecine relations of schools of poetry and criticism—John Crowe Ransom’s revisions, I.A. Richards’s scientific outlook on literature, the latest Modern Language Association feud. Tate and Brooks prove to be both impassioned partisans and seasoned campaigners. By the time Brooks settles down at Yale, where his and Robert “Red” Penn Warren’s Understanding Poetry was adopted as a standard text, and Tate begins his collegiate wanderings, they have taken on Van Wyck Brooks, the LSU faculty, the MLA convention, and the whole Ivy League. “It’s my considered opinion,” Brooks wrote to Tate, “that in academic matters one ought never use the rapier when the meat-axe will do.” The juiciest description of a faculty brawl surprisingly turns out to an Albee-esque melÇe between Penn Warren’s fiery first wife and Brooks’s spouse. Near their correspondence’s end Brooks confesses, “Letters, I find—at least the letter that I have to dash off—are not an adequate substitute for real conversation.” Or, in this case, material for literary eavesdropping, either.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8262-1207-7
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1998




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