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Laureates and Heretics

Six Careers in American Poetry

Robert Archambeau

Publication Year: 2010

Robert Archambeau examines the influence of the poet and critic Yvor Winters on his final generation of graduate students at Stanford in the early 1960s: Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, James McMichael, John Matthias, and John Peck. Archambeau divides the poets into two groups, laureates and heretics. Hass and Pinsky, each of whom served multiple terms as United Sates Poet Laureate, achieved both popular recognition and institutional renown. In contrast, the poetic accomplishments of Matthias, McMichael, and Peck (and to some extent Winters himself), the “heretics,” have not resulted in wide readership or institutional canonization. Archambeau begins with the context of the modernist poetics Winters first espoused and then rejected. The story that follows—of how his five most prominent students accepted, rejected, or transformed Winters’s poetics, and how these poets went on to greater or lesser degrees of success in the field of late twentieth-century letters—illuminates the cultural politics of poetry in our own day. The author provides close readings of poems by this diverse group of poets, places their careers and works in the context of their times, and traces the relationship between American literary history and American canons of literary taste from the 1930s to the present day. Laureates and Heretics is an important contribution to American literary history and American poetry.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

First, my thanks go to the poets themselves: to James McMichael, for all his work; to Robert Pinsky, for meeting with me in Lake Forest and in South Bend; to Robert Hass, for talking with me in Chicago and for his comments on the manuscript; to John Peck, for his correspondence and his patience; to John Matthias, for his ...

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pp. 1-6

Gertrude Stein, in her essay “Composition as Explanation,” has said almost everything that I want to say in this book: No one is ahead of his time, it is only that the particular variety of creating his time is the one that his contemporaries who also are creating their own time refuse to accept. The things refused are only important if unexpectedly somebody happens to need them. (521) ...

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Chapter 1: Yvor Winters: A Journey into the Dark

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pp. 7-34

Poet-Critic A and Poet-Critic B are both fifty-nine years old. But what else do they have in common? Not much, it seems, when you look at where their careers have led them. Earlier this year, Poet-Critic A began an unprecedented third term as Poet Laureate of the United States of America. His books are issued by the most prestigious literary publishers in New York ...

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Chapter 2: Robert Pinsky: American Laureate

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pp. 35-82

In 1963, Robert Pinsky arrived at Stanford to pursue his doctorate in literature. He had been writing poems for years, and he had enough confidence to publish some in The Anthologist, the literary magazine at Rutgers University, where he had studied as an undergraduate. Knowing little about Winters except that he was the ...

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Chapter 3: James McMichael: Caging the Demon

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pp. 83-98

“Who’s a better poet, Robert Frost or Edwin Arlington Robinson?” “Frost.” “I don’t think you understood the question.” It was a spring day in 1966 in Palo Alto when that exchange took place. Twenty-six-year-old James McMichael was defending his doctoral thesis at Stanford, and Yvor Winters, the director of the thesis committee, was asking what ...

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Chapter 4: Robert Hass: Statement and Image

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pp. 99-133

Robert Hass’s career seems almost to have been designed to disprove Chaucer’s claim that poetic fame is a “wynged wondre faste fleen.” Critical and popular favor arrived, for Hass, on wondrously fast wings, but they have not fled, nor do they show any signs of so doing. Hass has been one of the boy wonders of American poetry ...

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Chapter 5: John Matthias: Homing Poems

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pp. 135-187

It was fall in South Bend, Indiana, when Robert Pinsky appeared at the University of Notre Dame to read from The Figured Wheel and to discuss his new translation of Dante’s Inferno. The year 1997 had been a good one for Pinsky, who had taken to his role as U.S. Poet Laureate like a newly tenured professor takes to a sabbatical ...

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Chapter 6: John Peck: The Road to Zurich

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pp. 189-226

Let me begin by going back to Robert Pinsky’s “Essay on Psychiatrists,” with its depiction of Yvor Winters addressing his graduate students circa 1963 ...

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pp. 227-234

The shortest answer one could offer, if asked where Yvor Winters and his last students are now, would be, “all over the map.” The map here would be David Kellogg’s chart from “The Self in the Poetic Field,” and the poets whom we have been reading continue to be spread across broad portions of the poetic landscape staked ...

Works Cited

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pp. 235-245


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pp. 247-253

E-ISBN-13: 9780268074708
E-ISBN-10: 0268074704
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268020361
Print-ISBN-10: 0268020361

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 694144541
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Laureates and Heretics

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Subject Headings

  • Winters, Yvor, 1900-1968 -- Influence.
  • American poetry -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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