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NO OTHER BOOK by Randall Jarrell

NO OTHER BOOK

Selected Essays

By Randall Jarrell (Author) , Brad Leithauser (Editor)

Pub Date: June 13th, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-118012-2
Publisher: HarperCollins

A selection from the ardently, offhandedly composed criticism of, in editor Leithauser’s words, “an informal, brazen, unfootnoted diamond-in-the-rough.” At the height of Jarrell’s critical output, Berryman called him “the most powerful reviewer of poetry active in this country,” an ironic compliment for a prolific poet whose essay collections are now mostly out of print or unavailable. From Poetry and the Age (1953), A Sad Heart at the Supermarket (1962), The Third Book of Criticism (1969), and Kipling, Auden & Co. (1980), poet and novelist Leithauser (Friends of Freeland, 1997, etc.) has assembled a representative sample of Jarrell’s work on Willliam Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Robert Graves, W.H. Auden, and others; his views on reading and criticism; and his cultural commentaries. In his excellent pieces on Frost, Whitman, and Housman, Jarrell immediately distinguishes himself from coeval New Critics with his unfiltered sense of a poem’s mood and affect as revealed in its language, rather than in the epistemological ambiguities of its diction. In addition to the longer pieces, Leithauser has assembled “A Jarrell Gallery” culled from other sources. These brief excerpts, each a paragraph at the most, evidence his keen pleasure in good poetry and his feared invective against bad (e.g., “If [Stephen Spender] were as soft and sincere and sentimental as most of his poems make him out to be, the rabbits would have eaten him for lettuce, long ago”). Jarrell’s writings on 1950s mass culture in “The Rest of It,” however, often display a time-capsule mustiness in their complaints about Reader’s Digest culture and all-American conformity. Still, Jarrell’s clear-eyed view of his times has a glint of prescient clarity, as when he decries the academic professionalization of criticism and its ascendency over the works examined in “The Age of Criticism.” In these well-chosen essays’ unsparing generosity—and disparagement—Jarrell, unlike most critics, vividly conveys his enthusiasm for and occasional disappointment with contemporary poetry.