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Hart Crane

After His Lights

Written by Brian M. Reed

Publication Year: 2006

A critical reassessment of the life’s work of a major American poet.
With his suicide in 1932, Hart Crane left behind a small body of work—White Buildings (1926) and The Bridge (1930). Yet, Crane’s poetry was championed and debated publicly by many of the most eminent literary and cultural critics of his day, among them Van Wyck Brooks, Kenneth Burke, Robert Graves, Allen Tate, and Edmund Wilson. The Bridge appears in its entirety in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, and Crane himself has been the subject two recent biographies.

In Hart Crane: After His Lights, Brian Reed undertakes a study of Crane’s poetic output that takes into account, but also questions, the post-structural and theoretical developments in humanities scholarship of the last decade that have largely approached Crane in a piecemeal way, or pigeonholed him as represen-tative of his class, gender, or sexual orientation. Reed examines Crane’s career from his juvenilia to his posthumous critical reception and his impact on practicing poets following World War II. The first part of the study tests common rubrics of literary theory—nationality, sexuality, period—against Crane’s poetry, and finds that these labels, while enlightening, also obfuscate the origin and character of the poet’s work. The second part examines Crane’s poetry through the process of its composition, sources, and models, taking up questions of style, genealogy, and genre. The final section examines Crane’s influence on subsequent generations of American poets, especially by avant-garde literary circles like the New American poets, the Black Mountain School, the New York School, and the Beats.

The result is a study that complicates and enriches our understandings of Crane’s poetry and contributes to the ongoing reassessment of literary modernism’s origins, course, and legacy.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-viii

This book began as a dissertation written under the supervision of Marjorie Perloff. I owe her immeasurably. Her example and her leadership inspire me always. Terry Castle, Albert Gelpi, and Nicholas Jenkins also deserve humble thanks for spending many long hours helping me shape my initial, inchoate intentions into a rough-and-ready argument. Thankfully, this book no longer much resembles the dissertation I submitted...

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A Note on Citation

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p. ix

Throughout Hart Crane: After His Lights, I will be supplementing the standard MLA documentation style by using the following abbreviations to designate frequently cited works: FOHCP Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems...

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Introduction: Hart Crane Again

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pp. 1-14

Hart Crane spent the night of 26 April 1932 as he did many other nights in his short life. He drank compulsively, and then he sought out sailors who might be interested in quick, no-consequences sex. This time, he chose badly. He received a thorough thrashing. While unfortunate, this outcome was...


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1. How American

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pp. 17-38

In the first decades of the twentieth century, many significant U.S. poets— among them T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, H.D., Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams—reacted strongly against the perceived excesses of late nineteenth-century poetry. These authors rejected the elegant,...

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2. How Queer

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pp. 39-70

Illustrating Crane’s adherence to Victorian verse norms usefully transgresses hoary disciplinary lines by demonstrating the need to think about modern U.S. poetry in a transatlantic context. Such a gesture is, however, in itself unlikely to win the poet new admirers, whether in or out of the academy. Whatever its national...

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3. How Modern

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pp. 71-93

The last chapter’s synchronic frame—its concentration on Crane’s relationship to Sapphic modernism and its literary strategies—helps resolve the problem that chapter 1 posed, namely, Crane’s long-term, albeit qualified, commitment to decadent aesthetics. His ars contra naturam updates 1890s strategies for expressing homoerotic desire to suit...


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4. How to Write a Lyric

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pp. 97-125

The last chapter, “How Modern,” repositioned Hart Crane’s poetry within a novel literary-historical genealogy en route to an argument about what one, following Immanuel Kant, might call the purposive purposelessness of its excessive, overpowering artifice.1 In this narrative, Crane’s work appears not...

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5. How to Write an Epic

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pp. 126-166

In “New Thresholds, New Anatomies: Notes on a Text of Hart Crane” (1935), the New Critic R. P. Blackmur attacked The Bridge’s “radical confusion” (274). Though in many respects a dated piece, this essay is worth revisiting. It restores the scandalousness of the long poem in the aftermath of its initial publication. Blackmur takes it as an...


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6. Paul Blackburn’s Crane

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pp. 169-194

Nebulous declarations of “influence” have long been a regular feature of the canon formation game, a means of sorting writers into camps, clans, and traditions. For many critics—Harold Bloom most notably—authorial influence is analogous to parental authority. As chapter 1 indicates...

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7. Frank O’Hara’s Crane

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pp. 195-224

Massachusetts-raised and Harvard-educated, Frank O’Hara (1926–66) came into his own after moving to New York City in autumn 1951. Like one of Hart Crane’s golden boys “who step / The legend of their youth into the noon” (HCCP 3), O’Hara, through a manic whirl of writing, partying, talking, and drinking, quickly established himself as arbiter elegantiarum for the New York avant-garde. Publishing little...

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8. Bob Kaufman’s Crane

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pp. 225-246

The last two chapters have investigated Hart Crane’s influence on the New American Poetry in general and on Paul Blackburn and Frank O’Hara specifically. The inquiry has emphasized community formation—in theory, in rhetoric, and in practice—in order to highlight the instability, mutability, and resilience of an author’s life and works through time, as well as their dependency on local, particular discourses, conditions, and personalities for their shape, character, and consequences. To speak of...


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pp. 247-269

Works Cited

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pp. 271-286


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pp. 287-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382926
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817352707

Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 427559771
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Hart Crane

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Subject Headings

  • Modernism (Literature) -- United States.
  • Crane, Hart, -- 1899-1932 -- Criticism and interpretation
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