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This article is taken from PN Review 143, Volume 28 Number 3, January - February 2002.

Donald Davie and Two Ways Out of Whitman Belle Randall

Not at all the miscellaneous scraping of the bottom of the barrel one expects of belated posthumous collections, this assortment of reviews, lectures and poems, some previously published, some not, has been selected and arranged by Doreen Davie, the poet's widow, not always chronologically but in order to display a more comprehensive view of American poetry than we knew Davie afforded. For this we are grateful. Though modest in their individual claims, taken as a whole these pieces offer an eye-opening alternative reading of American poetry and its heritage. Those who would dismiss Donald Davie as reactionary simply have not read him. No critic is more limber in his sympathies, more open to new kinds of poetry, indeed, at times, open to a fault. However much he may have admired poems by Americans who more or less adopted the British tradition (Donald Hall, Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov), such poetry didn't much engage Davie's critical attention. In coming to America, Davie sought poetry that was distinctly American, and he made it his project to trace a vital tradition from Walt Whitman through Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams (the need to bypass T.S. Eliot is presupposed) to the Black Mountains and Ed Dorn. Davie's theories are well-earned; even more admirable is his willingness to discard them, if refuted by the real thing. Of 'Song of Myself' he says,

I found myself reading a great poem, invigorating and liberating. The experience was undeniable and at whatever cost my ...


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