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This review is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

RUTH HAWTHORN ‘…we never learnt why he came or what he wanted’: Berryman’s Schwartz

In a lurid review of The Letters of Delmore Schwartz and Randall Jarrell’s Letters, the prolific biographer-critic Jeffrey Meyers posits Schwartz’s relevance as follows:

Schwartz is interesting… not for his art but for his life and friendships. He exemplifies the golden boy and young culture hero of the liberal intellectuals, wrecked by himself and by mental illness; the talented and successful poet who moves through drink, drugs and psychiatry to paranoid behavior, psychotic episodes, and a couple of bouts in Bellevue. Like a skull on a monk’s table, Schwartz warned the tottering survivors of what was in store for them. His tragic career inspired greater works than any he ever wrote…1

Meyers’ review is almost entirely objectionable, both for its ghoulish tone, and, more significantly, for its lack of any sustained engagement with the works in question. His brief but sweeping aesthetic judgments are prescriptive, presented as objective truth, without due reference to the actual poems. For example, the three lines he chooses as justification for a rejection of Schwartz’s entire corpus are taken out of context, from a long late poem, ‘The First Morning of the Second World’, which builds slowly, through the cumulative, sonorous effects of incantatory repetition, alliteration, assonance and rhyme (and which few would agree with Meyers is ‘one of his better works’). Meyers’ melodramatic discourse is only one example, albeit an extreme one, of the problematic biographical criticism that has dominated the study of Delmore Schwartz, Robert Lowell ...


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