Correspondence

Is Old Bob McNamara Still Teaching at Harvard?

Letter From London

I had the distinct feeling I had seen the book somewhere before. It was almost like the old cinematographic cliche: close-up of the Treblinka torturer's face in a dream sequence, a faded photograph shot in sepia tones, men running through the courtyard. The title was respectable enough, The Faber Book of Contemporary American Poetry, Faber and Faber, 3 Queen Square, don't you know? Eliot's firm. But then I recognized the name: Helen Vendler.

A feverish leafing-through and I was enveloped in familiar drivel:

Poetry is the most speaking of written signs; it is the most designed of spoken utterances; it inhabits, and makes us travellers in, a place where every phrase of the spoken language would be as outlined as an urn.

What urn?! "Professor Vendler," William Scammell lashed out in The Spectator, "writes in that browfurrowing pomp-speak beloved of certain academics, which ought rightly to be set up in gothic type." For Vendler, wrote Scammell, seeing is "optic concentration"; line endings are a "perpetual self-hating" in which she finds "the ground" for poetry's "peculiar attraction" and a "spooling, a form of repetition, the reinscribing of a groove"; to read is to join "the procession of forms that give access to an imagined plane of projected existence." The Faber Book of Contemporary...

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