Monday, March 31, 2008

Colm Tóibín on Hart Crane

In the NYRB:
In his poems he worked a gnarled, edgy sound against the singing line; he played a language dense with metaphor and suggestion against images and rhythms of pure soaring beauty. His syntax had something hard and glittering in it, utterly surprising. In his best poems he managed to make the rhythms—the hidden nervous system in the words and between the words—so interesting, intense, and effortless that they command attention and emotional response despite their verbal density, basic difficulty, and what Crane himself called "tangential slants, inter-woven symbolisms."
I would like to one time do a study of the way in which extended characterizations are written, how what amounts to an ekphrasis of a career is composed. How does one bottle the essence of a writer and describe her in her own medium? Should one try to match the writer in style, tempo, and personality while describing her? Or should one rather try to translate her into a different idiom? Are these extended characterizations useful to us when thinking about the writer, or are they merely little trinkets of virtuosity flashed by reviewers to draw our eyes away from a gap between the cramped pedestrian nature of critical writing and the untrammeled spriteliness of creative composition? To put it more succinctly, do these things succeed, and if so, at what?

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