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364 Western American Literature Nathanael West, Raymond Chandler, and Joan Didion seem to be the writers whose work strikes the deepest chord in the critics here. But Los Angeles in Fiction is chock-full of off-beat surprises. Fine contributes some first-rate scholarship on thirties “tough guy” writers James M. Cain and Horace McCoy. It’s a blast of fresh air to encounter an entire chapter on Oscar Zeta Acosta’sbarrio novel The Revolt of the Cockroach People. Walter Wells offers a sophisticated analysis of the expatriate British perspective on anti-myth in the Los Angeles novels of Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh. There’seven some mention of relatively unknown but significant local writers like Marc Norman and Hisaye Yamamoto. Drawbacks include the absence of discussion of the work of strong regional contenders like John Fante and Carolyn See, or of even one black writer. Paul Skenazy’s two essays on Los Angeles detective fiction are so good that I wish he had written the one on screenwriter Robert Towne as well. Skenazy reveals both the deep structures and the artistry of the classic and not-so-classic novels he examines. His mastery makes one impatient with the undertone of moral absolutism that mars Liahna K. Babener’s chapter on Towne’sfilm Chinatown. Babener’spresentation of Towne as a rhetorician of doom and gloom slights his artistry and suggests her own entrapment in the mystique of Los Angeles. Part of native son Robert Towne’sunobtrusive greatness liesin his feeling for the land, a fact of some salience given the over-riding preoccupation of the critics in Los Angeles in Fiction with the alleged failure of Southern Cali­ fornia writers to create a regional body of work that evokes the landscape in its natural form. In any case, the coming great earthquake will probably level the city as it is now and give the writers and critics a real dystopia to com­ plain about. JANIS HELBERT Pacific Palisades, California Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-At-Large. By Larry Smith. (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. 232 pages, $22.50.) Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his art have always been a problem for critics. Serious consideration of his work has been rare. There have been a few responsible attempts, though, to divine the methods of a writer who has had an undeniable impact on American poetry—both its place in society and its aims. Larry Smith’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-At-Large is the most recent addition to this list and is by far the most important. It is the first exten­ sive consideration of Ferlinghetti, his creative imperative, and the methods revealed in his work. In a knowledgeable journey through the poet’s life and how that life affects his art, Smith asserts that Ferlinghetti’s creativity springs from a central belief that art is produced by a writer actively involved in the workings of society. This belief relies on both social involvement (hence the Reviews 365 “poet-at-large” appellation) and an awareness of the traditions of artists before him. Smith is most effective when he turns his attention to the writing itself, though there are a few instances when he merely summarizes a poem rather than analyzing it. He finds in the poet’s art a number of tools which surface again and again: the “open form,” in which Ferlinghetti structures his poetic lines upon his own breathing rhythms, revealing an indebtedness to William Carlos Williams; abstract-expressionism, adapted by Ferlinghetti to poetry, in which, like e.e. cummings, the poet uses his paper as a canvas on which to typographically paint his poems; writing which attempts to transmit pure thought to words, though in a somewhat directed way (Smith suggests this method most resembles Surrealism, but with a didactic twist); and “filmic scenes,” by which Ferlinghetti creates a poetry of cinematic intensity with vivid, meaning-packed images and quick, sudden movements of the poetic lens. Smith’s work is destined to be a seminal study of Ferlinghetti’s art, both for its insight into the creative processes of an important figure in American literature and as a starting point for a serious rereading of the writer who was once...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 364-365
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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