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  • The Kenner-Davenport Era
  • Denis Donoghue (bio)

It is a delight to see two scholars sharing their scholarship, and now we have the record of a remarkably fruitful correspondence, from 1958 to about 1986 with snippets thereafter till 2000, between Hugh Kenner and Guy Davenport, different minds concentrated on the quandaries of modern literature.

Hugh Kenner (1923–2003) I knew well enough, Guy Davenport (1927–2005) not at all. Kenner came to Dublin fairly often during the years in which I lived there and while my name was not italicized, I feel sure, on his visiting list, our paths crossed easily in that gregarious city. I assumed he came to familiarize himself again with Joyce's streets and on the off chance of meeting someone whose father or grandfather might have seen Joyce "walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand." Kenner brought his camera with him, and snapped the Crampton monument, Thomas Moore's right index finger, and the bust of Demosthenes in Trinity College's library, photographs he was to offer to readers of Joyce's Voices (1978). A few of his visits have stayed in my mind; one, when I brought him to dinner at the King Sitric restaurant in Howth, and the head waiter steered him unerringly to the most expensive dishes on the menu. I recall nothing further of that evening, either what Kenner or I said. Ezra Pound's companion Olga Rudge told Guy Davenport that Kenner was "a wonderful raconteur." He did not have that reputation in Dublin or in Howth. I can only suppose that in Italy and at Pound's table in Sant'Ambrogio he raised his game in the hope of enticing the silent poet to speak.

A year or two later, Kenner was again among us. Someone arranged a lunch at Bernardo's, and a round tableful of bookish folk assembled [End Page 426] with Kenner the guest of honor. Donald Davie was there, Seán White, and if my approximate memory holds, Father Roland Burke Savage, the editor of Studies. What I mainly remember is that the lunch had hardly begun before Kenner started urging Davie and me to give up our jobs in Dublin and remove ourselves to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Kenner was the most eminent member of the English faculty there. He said he had a plan, that we would join with him, Marvin Mudrick, and other gifted colleagues and exert a "cultural heave from the West," as he memorably phrased it, to dislodge the rascals who were running the literary show in New York. I didn't take this notion seriously, but Davie did, at least to the partial extent of arranging a year's sabbatical leave from Trinity College and spending it, indeed, in Santa Barbara, where, however, he did not remain. Two or three years later, Kenner was yet again in Dublin, and this time he and I conducted, if that is the right verb, a graduate seminar in Trinity on Marianne Moore's poem "Virginia Britannia." I recall little of that occasion except that Kenner kept emphasizing that Pound was the first poet who wrote his poems directly to a typewriter and passed that practice on to Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams. I found the point more persuasive in Kenner's The Counterfeiters, where he shows how swiftly Williams moved, writing "At the Bar" from one draft to the next until he got it right. He could not have made those changes as painlessly with pen or pencil.

The last time I saw Kenner was at a Pound conference in Hailey, Idaho, in, I think, 2002. I gave a lecture called "A Packet for Ezra Pound," the title and probably much else taken from Yeats. Kenner did me the honor of attending it, staying awake for its 50 minutes and then leaving without saying yea or nay. That was fine by me. Kenner's knowledge of Pound's work exceeded mine by a factor of 10 or 20. I could not have delivered to him one iota of news. Some months later I read of his death.

HK and GD came together as scholars of Pound. They met for...