The correspondence of Malcolm Cowley

Cover00Gerald Howard at Bookforum:

ABOUT FOUR-FIFTHS OF THE WAY through this vast and rich omnium-gatherum of epistolary activity by Malcolm Cowley, this almost throwaway line in a letter to Yvor Winters arrives: “I’m weak, deplorably weak, in knowledge of the sixteenth century lyric.” Nobody’s perfect! The remark doesn’t come off as disingenuous; instead, it reflects Cowley’s enduring engagement (he was then sixty-nine) with verse techniques and history as both a critic and a practicing poet himself.

“Poet” ranks just above “translator” at the bottom of the multiple job descriptions usually applied to Malcolm Cowley, one of the most important and influential men of letters (or freelance literary intellectuals, if you prefer) of the twentieth century. Yet his lifelong grappling with poetic matters (he was an acolyte of Amy Lowell’s at Harvard before and after World War I) speaks to the degree, impossible to imagine in our balkanized literary situation, to which literature in its every manifestation was all of a piece to him, something he regarded in its broadest, most inclusive vistas.

more here.