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Reviews Some Old and New Voices in Western Poetry: An Essay-Review A Comfort of My Own Finding. By Gordon Elliott Abshire. (Forest Grove, Oregon: The Randi Press, 1971. 36 pages. $2.50.) Varmint (¿. By Charles Boer. (Chicago: The Swallow Press, 1972. 148 pages. $6.00.) Signposts. By Roger Hecht. (Chicago: The Swallow Press, 1970. 56 pages. $5.00.) Miss Liberty, Meet Crazy Horse! By Don Jones. (Chicago: The Swallow Press, 1972. 61 pages. $5.00.) Midnight Was My Cry. By Carolyn Kizer. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1971.132 pages. $5.95.) Much to the disgust of academics and other serious-minded folk, Western poetry has largely been a triumph of popular poetry. Robert Service and his Alaska ballads long ago infiltrated the school system, thus gaining acceptance, if not approval, as icons in verse. If you don’tknow much about poetry, but you know what you like, then by adulthood you may think of poetry in terms of Carl Sandburg, Joyce Kilmer — and Robert Service. I remember once in Seattle — where Service seems much more real than he does in Los Angeles — my wife and I went to a large dinner party featuring fresh-caught king crab and salmon. After talk of pipe lines, earthquakes, natural resources, and northern lights, our host put on a record. It was not such-then topical apr'es dejeuner fare as Lenny Bruce Alan Sherman orThe Beatles —but Walter Brennan, his voice at full melodrama­ tic timbre, emoting through Service’s Klondike bardawfulties. Jeffers, Snyder, and Roethke just don’t seem to have reached “the public.” Yet, despite its lapses into pretentions, phoniness, bad dreams and worse craftsmanship, popular Western poetry has some very positive qualities. For one thing — positivism itself, which with vitality, definition, conviction, and celebra­ tion of the land, can make powerful statements about our region and its values. To equate quality poetry and popular poetry is not by definition to fall into non 154 Western American Literature sequitur. Out of popular Western poetry’s traditions and mythos has come at least one master tabulator with an epic vision of inspiration and edification for all of us. This bard, of course, is John Gibson Neihardt. While we critics have been ignoring or scoffing at popular Western poetry, what have we been doing to illuminate quality Western poetry? Consider the noted publisher, poet, and critic, Alan Swallow'. Nine day wonder and saint that he was, Swallow seems symptomatic of the problem. Judge and judgment. Cull the spurious from the genuine; publish and celebrate the genuine. But as Morton L. Ross pointed out in "Alan Swallow and Modern, Western Poetry,’’ (WAL, I [Summer, 1966], 97-1*04) the man had one hell of a time figuring out ajudgmental system for what a W'estern poetics ought to be. Swallow’s soul-searching led him through a contradictory labrythine landscape to a self-defeating precipice w'hich supported only a poetry rational, regional, and reactionary. It is totally to Swallow’s credit that he often rose above such ideal theory and published writers who wrote other than what Swallow' preached. For he must have realized that trading soaring coursers and unbridled flights of Pegasus for a stable of feisty, backbiting, obscurantist academics was not much of a swap. Alan Swallow tried to pass historical judgment on a poetry living, growing, and experimenting to find itself. He wanted to know the game's outcome before he even knew what the players were like, or what games they were interested in playing. Mr. Swallow taught us not to rush tojudgment. And it wras a good lesson, because in the last few years we have seen several excellent in-depth studies of a variety of individual Western poets. I am thinking particularly of Tom Lyon’s work on Gary Snyder, J. Russell Roberts, Sr.’s article on William Stafford (WAL, III [Fall, 1968], 217-226), and Jack Scherting’s very useful piece in VII, 3 of WAL on the complicated and largely unrecognized Thomas Hornsby Ferril. These studies all stress the worth and uniqueness of the individual poet’s vision without making judgmental pronouncements from some Mount Olympus of poetic and moral theory. Accurate description...


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