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This article is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Edmund Wilson and the Poets Tony Roberts
Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was the most influential of twentieth-century literary and social critics in America, a journalist in the biographical tradition of Johnson, Arnold and Sainte-Beuve, who energised the magazine columns until the 1960s. A Princeton graduate and friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the much-published Wilson was editor at Vanity Fair (1920- 21) and then The New Republic. He also reviewed for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.
 
Wilson's blind spot is said to have been poetry. Worse, in an infamous essay from 1934 he wrote of it as a 'dying technique'. At the same time, he wrote occasional poetry himself and contributed some necessary and judicious work on the Modernists in Axel's Castle (1931) and on Civil War poetry in Patriotic Gore (1962), a monumental study of the literature and character of that time, as well as some significant essays in his collections The Shores of Light (1952), Classics and Commercials (1950) and The Bit Between My Teeth (1966). These are the books his reputation lives by and where his contribution to the poetry of his time is remembered.

Wilson's dealings with the poets and poetry of his day are of some interest. It is also fascinating -  from the lofty vantage point of 2013 - to see what a brilliant mind made of the poetry back then. Being wedded to traditional prosodic forms and the canon, he tended to favour the lyric poets of his day, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, but to stay away from ...


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