ASSAULT ON MOUNT HELICON: A Literary Memoir by Mary Barnard


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Just out of Reed College in the Thirties, fledgling poet Barnard put herself in touch--by letter--with two of America's most important literary figures, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. Later she was introduced to Marianne Moore, and received encouragement from that considerable quarter as well. Some small writing success ensued--a Yaddo stay, inclusion in a New Directions chapbook, directorship of the new Lockwood Poetry Collection in Buffalo. Yet, with the exception of a much later, well-respected edition of Sappho translations, Barnard's assault on publishing, at least, was slippery. (She writes guilelessly of her agent Diarmuid Russell's heroic but vain attempts to place her serious fiction, her mystery novels, her stories, etc.) So a reader's interest naturally falls back on her acquaintances, rather than on Barnard herself--and the pickings here become disappointingly slim. That Flossie Williams didn't like Ezra Pound (jealousy is Barnard's unstartling diagnosis); that Muriel Rukeyser could be socially thoughtless; that old Pound did in fact drop a word or two during his final exile into silence: these are the sort of short, shreddy memories here. The letters Barnard received are longer, fuller; many of these have been collected heretofore--and are what any lucky acolyte might expect to receive from a master: encouraging, flattering, but hardly revealing. This all adds up to a lack of focus--with tangents everywhere, and nowhere quite a point.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Univ. of California Press