A Poetic Vortex

"There is no more self-assured man than a had poet."

Sometimes it seems as though everyone who was anyone in postwar American poetry was attending, teaching at, or at least near Harvard in the 1950's. This impression is confirmed by Peter Davison's memoir: everyone was. In The Fading Smile, Davison offers glimpses into this latter-day stateside Lost Generation of American poets, a casually—we might even say coincidentally—linked group whose work would far outshine and outlast that of their Beat counterparts in San Francisco.

Davison seems uniquely positioned for such reflections. Arriving in Boston in 1955 to serve as assistant to the editor at Harvard University Press, he published his own earliest poems during this time, and later, at the Atlantic Monthly and elsewhere, had the opportunity to publish some of the best known poets of our era, including Sylvia Plath, with whom he had a brief romance in the summer of 1955. Davison was part of this crowd, though not at its center; he was on fairly close personal terms with nearly all of its members, yet—fortunately for this book—he could maintain a somewhat objective distance from them. His recollections of that half-decade and his interviews and correspondence since then with most of the key figures make for a thoughtful, revealing, yet in many ways oddly...

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