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This article is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

To Fit a Late Time: a reading of Five American Poets Jeremy Hooker

The idea or feeling that we are situated 'late' in time is a potent one, especially for poets who are heirs to the modernist tradition, and who seek to find or reconstruct a common world among the ruins of civilization. John Matthias, in an essay on Robert Duncan and David Jones, quotes Jones's view that, 'Normally… the flowers for the muse's garland would be gathered from the ancestral burial-mound.' Matthias notes the implication, 'that we live in abnormal times, that we come very late indeed into the world of our ancestors'. Consciousness of 'lateness', in one sense or another, is shared by the poets with whom I am concerned in this essay.

I shall base what I have to say on readings of new books, or books published quite recently, by five American poets whose earlier work was represented in the anthology of that title published by Carcanet in 1979: Robert Hass, John Matthias, James McMichael, John Peck, and Robert Pinsky. One reason for grouping the poets in the anthology was that they had been students of Yvor Winters at Stanford. Michael Schmidt, in his Introduction, says that if they 'share a debt to Winters, it must be as much a moral as a poetic debt', and claims that 'all five poets evince one element of Wintersian disdpline'. This is 'sanity'; in the words of John Matthias, 'sanity at work in poetry even where emotion is nearly intolerable'.

It is not my intention to pigeonhole ...

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