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This article is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

Winters' Talents Neil Powell

One familiar and not altogether encouraging paradox about literature is that writing can be hugely influential without actually being read. The world is full of people who use and recognise as components of everyday speech phrases from Hamlet, even though they have never opened a copy of the play; while sixth-form English students have for generations been affected by the works of Leavis even though only those who go on to study literature at university (if those) are likely to read much of him. Even so, the position of Yvor Winters among the influential unread remains special, partly because it embraces two parallel literary activities - the critical and the creative - and partly because, for British readers at any rate, it has been reinforced by the physical difficulty of getting hold of his books.

That, of course, could be part of his attraction. For my generation of students, as perhaps for others, discovering contemporary American writing meant tracking down imports in places like Better Books or Compendium or Indica, or sending off hopeful sterling cheques for strangesounding amounts to mail-order suppliers who months later might (and indeed usually did) deliver the goods. And the odd thing about this was the way in which it applied equally to relatively experimental poets, for whom it seemed perfectly appropriate, and to writers of an altogether more formal disposition - Edgar Bowers or J. V. Cunningham or Winters himself. In the case of Winters, the Collected Poems and at least ...


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