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The Bridge-Builder The Poetry of Hart Crane: A Critical Study, by R. W. B. Lewis. Princeton University Press.1967. $11.00. 426 pp. Hart Crane: An Introduction to the Poetry, by Herbert A. Leibowitz. Columbia University Press. 1968. $8.25. 308 pp. Robber Rocks: Letters and Memories of Hart Crane, 1923-1932, by Susan Jenkins Brown. Wesleyan University Press. 1968. $5.95. 176 pp. Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane,by John Unterecker. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1969. $15.00. 787 pp. MARSTON LAFRANCE When Hart Crane first arrived in New York from the midwest, right after Christmas of 1916, he was seventeen years old, alone, and he knew personally only one man in the whole city - a young painter named Carl Schmitt. At the time of his suicide he was thirty-two; and during the intervening decade and a half of America's golden age of modern literature he was in and out of New York dozens of times, knew personally everyone worth knowing, and - without any apparent intention - managed to lift his own life toward the shadowy realm of myth inhabited by the gigantic shades of Melville and Whitman, the American predecessors whom he most admired. The result of this fabulous pilgrimage was many Hart Cranes: the poverty-ridden misfit in a commercial world, the compulsive drinker, the dancer of the "gozotsky" who could reduce any gathering of friends to helpless laughter, the hard-working craftsman, the man who flung his typewriter through a second-story window when it refused to write a letter in Spanish, the extremely masculine homosexual, the man who emerged from a week in a Paris jail sore as a boil because no one had given him any paper to write poems on, the lover of Peggy Baird, a man absolutely without envy - the list can easily be extended. One of the constant realities behind the myth was Crane's superb lyric gift. Another was an impossible home-life, impossible from his birth to his death. Yet another was the period's rampant materialism, the pre-depression binge which saw Mencken's boobus Americanus emerge as a distinct species quite convinced it was born to inherit the earth. A fourth reality was Crane's immense energy, best described by Peggy Baird: "It was hard THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL, II, NO, 2 1 FALL 1971 to keep up with his fierce tempo, charging everything with tremendous energy, drinking, writing, making love, and just enjoying himself. It was like living with an erupting volcano." Four such ingredients - even without the others which Crane harboured- combine into a highly volatile mixture, the very sh.tffthat dreams are made on. Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane, which follows the biography by Philip Horton and the biographical and critical study by Brom Weber, is a careful , patient examination of the separate ingredients and their precarious fusion into a first-rate lyric poet. Mr. Unterecker wisely lets Crane himself do most of the outlining by means of the letters, but he writes with a pleasant gusto of his own which breathes life into an overflowing cast of supporting characters. This book is the result of ten years' work, and even though it is a shortened version of the penultimate stage of the manuscript it is still a solid ten square miles of biography. (The bibliography and footnotes, available upon request, have been omitted for some inexplicable reason - possibly to make the book portable for the reader who does not own a truck.) One is more or less forced to recognize two essential subjects - Crane and the full context in which his life has to be placed - because the reader whose interest is rigidly confined to Crane alone will find the net both too fine in mesh and too broad in sweep for his liking, and he will complain about a lack of discrimination between matters important to Crane's life and less important elements of context: Crane's friendship with the artist William Sommer, for example, shares about equal billing with a nonsensical feud between Matthew Josephson and Gorham Munson. The context, however, is interesting in its own right. Even the names themselves - Maxwell Bodenheim, Gaston...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 106-113
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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