Summers, Hollis 1916–
Summers is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and editor. The setting for his work is often the socially constricting and stifling world of the rural South. In his work he examines the role of violence in this tense and narrow environment. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
Robert L. Peters
Hollis Summers' dominant trait is a quiet clarity. His effects recall the painter Andrew Wyeth's steady melancholy, his whimsical affection for the mundane, and his strong shadows. The Sears Roebuck catalogue, soap stolen from hotels, calories, and a college commencement are among Summers' subjects. Like Wyeth also, Summers allows his forms a full display; their structures glow with vitality. The seven occasions for song he writes of [in Seven Occasions] are: singing for its own sake, discovering one's self in verse, celebrating sex, strengthening a delicate sensibility, venting one's anger and aggressions, warning of coming social and political horrors, and, finally, capturing quiet and containment. Summers' poetry appears to fit the last of his seven "occasions" best. It is mature verse with little experimentation: it satisfies within modest limits. (pp. 365-66)
Robert L. Peters, in Prairie Schooner (© 1965 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Winter, 1965–66.
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Hollis Summers in The Peddler and Other Domestic Matters … takes us on a trip around the world to show us, not a fountain in Rome, but people. He deals mostly with the oneness of all who share the earth, and with our common mortality. He is writing, of course, about himself, because he is good enough to know that a poet cannot write about anyone else….
Summers has an easy hand; he employs the devices of both conventional poetry and contemporary language without awkwardness. There is no stiffness, and no grand flourishes. The poems, in fact, are so quiet at times that the lines sink into the page until there is nothing there, nothing to resolve the poem but a shrug of the shoulders—whether the reader's or the author's I am not sure.
More than most poets working now, Summers is given to the abstraction, the direct statement. He cares little for—or, anyway, makes relatively little use of—the submerged metaphor and other indirect ways to meaning, and the objects with which he builds his images are usually what he calls them, with nothing hidden inside. This is not to disparage the plainer poems. The direct statement almost always does the job; but it is the lines rich with sense not immediately seen that are strongest. (p. 32)
Miller Williams, in Saturday Review (© 1968 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), March 9, 1968....
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Although sensational happenings occur on each of the three Mondays [in "The Day After Sunday"], no single character involved is fundamentally changed. The days may not resemble each other, but each personality remains fixed, unaltered by experience. This is how a certain life-style in Lexington, Ky. (the author seems to say) has made existence resistant to shock and change, incurably sterile and mediocre, forever bourgeois in its devotion to ritual.
For the handful of characters Mr. Summers fully develops in his condensed and concentrated novel, the virtues of this life-style far outweigh its poverties of spirit and intelligence. These people settle for comfort, a cabalistic force in their lives….
Clearly, their view of the Lexington life-style is not that of the author. He doesn't even impute the blame to Lexington. He has risked the toughest gamble for any novelist, to make mediocre and fundamentally unaware people interesting to the sophisticated mind. It is a measure of his power as a writer that he persuades us of the reality of these profoundly non-reflective characters as universal types.
Lon Tinkle, "Tomorrow and Tomorrow," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 21, 1968, p. 30.
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Hollis Summers's Sit Opposite Each Other … has the virtues of the best prose: economy, precision, and focus. Summers prefers cool to wild, wit and logic to exuberance. One can admire the restraint and skill, but the repetition of tactics and the narrow range of tonalities make this a limited even if a finely wrought book. It is a collection of intelligent observations, clear sentences, meaningful silences…. (p. 46)
Daniel Jaffe, in Saturday Review (© 1971 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), April 3, 1971.
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At first, Tom and Caroline seem as vital as Barbie dolls. Gradually, with rare skill, the author shifts from their surface mannerisms to their awareness of themselves and of one another….
The magic of "The Garden" is that it makes a rhapsody of the commonplace. Hollis Summers's panoramic vision catches everything. From their meetings with strangers in an alien setting, Tom and Caroline achieve an almost painful isolation of their individual personalities. (p. 42)
Martin Levin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 17, 1972.
"To make a sacred pageant," writes Hollis Summers,"… You do not need rock cliffs,/A walled city, a river running./Start with a picture of where we live/Wearing what we're wearing." When Summers follows his own advice, writing about home, himself traveling, the small encounters of everyday life, he is at his best. Occasionally he tries something more nightmarish, and at times this approach leads to poems, like "The Doll," which depend too heavily on the intrinsic interest of their subject matter. To recount odd dreams in a matter-of-fact tone is not quite enough for poetry; what is needed is more attention to language's resources. But there are not many poems in [Start from Home] which fail as "The Doll" does. Most of them are wise, witty, and...
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A great admirer of W. B. Yeats, Summers attempts balance not only in writing two genres; he shows a concern for balance and form at every level in his art, and the number three obsesses him as he orders. For example, he divided The Day After Sunday, his fourth novel, into three parts, each of which contains three sections. Each section in turn contains five chapters, one for each of the five major characters; each chapter is told from one major character's point of view. He has also arranged Occupant Please Forward into three parts. The poem "Occupant" opens the first section, and "Please Forward" is the second poem in the third section. Like his speaker in "Civilization," the poet "filled space with pattern."…
[For me the most important characteristic of Summers] is the Metaphysical quality of his poetry. An admirer of the English Metaphysicals as well as of later Yeats, he shows in his poems the subtlety, irony, ambiguity, elliptical quality, unusual figures of speech, and difficulty—in thought and syntax—that we often associate with Metaphysical style. (p. 251)
The poet in "The Marriage" and elsewhere uses sound patterns in a way that calls for careful reading. For example, although the speaker and his wife have had thus far a "sylvan" marriage, he knows the comfortable marriage can turn into a civil war. Sylvan may turn in to civil; the change—in sound and subject—could occur...
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