REPORTS OF MY DEATH: Vol. II Poet: An Autobiography by Karl Shapiro

REPORTS OF MY DEATH: Vol. II Poet: An Autobiography

Email this review


Despite the ""reports"" in the title, poet and critic Shapiro proves quite lively in this second volume of his autobiography (The Younger Son, 1988); an unusual narrative that covers his rise among the literati--prizes, jobs, famous colleagues--as well as his fall--critical neglect, banishment from anthologies, and the bizarre rumors of suicide in the late Sixties. Above all, Shapiro demonstrates his rugged independence from the poetical norm in this surprisingly gossipy memoir. Apart from his willingness to experiment in verse forms, Shapiro shunned the typical life of the poet in the latter part of this century. While poets such as ""shifty-eyed and sycophantic"" Robert Lowell lived on the margins of sanity and espoused all the proper rad-lib ideas for The New York Review set, he says, other poets flocked to the universities in droves, securing comfortable lives and tenured muses. Restless in spirit, Shapiro nevertheless embraced the title ""bourgeois poet"" and at the same time would ""shed jobs like a poodle shaking off bath water."" Fresh from the Navy in 1945, with a Pulitzer in hand, Shapiro managed one ""sinecure"" after another: a consultancy at the Library of Congress, and then tenure at Johns Hopkins. But his native Baltimore began ""to suffocate him,"" and Shapiro gave up a guaranteed job for the risky business of editing the critically acclaimed--though financially troubled--Poetry magazine. University appointments followed his editing job: UC, Davis; Berkeley; Iowa; Univ. of Illinois; and back to Davis. But Shapiro's contrarian politics continually get him in trouble: he's the lone dissenter to awarding the first Bollingen to that ""meshugena momzer"" Pound; he defends the obscenities of Henry Miller and the Beats, though the latter have nothing in common with him poetically (and he now regrets the Beat-inspired Sixties wholesale). Despite his ""bourgeois"" aspirations, Shapiro clearly doesn't extol middle-class values, and his private life attests to that. He's an admittedly ""poor excuse as a father, worse as a husband,"" and guiltless about his endless adulteries. Proud of his southern deportment and his cultivation of inconspicuousness, Shapiro here thrusts his animosities and triumphs back into the spotlight. And we should be grateful.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1990
Publisher: Algonquin