Louis Simpson’s development as a poet encompasses virtually the entire second half of the twentieth century. At a time when the Academic poets warred with the Beat poets, Simpson marched to his own poetic rhythms. He passed through the waters of the Deep Image without being caught in its currents. Wordsworthian influences have been noted in his poetry, and Simpson gives important attention to Walt Whitman in both his poetry and prose, but Whitman’s influence is perhaps more psychological and theoretical than overt. Using forms and devices that were necessary to express his poetic vision and to speak in a voice that was his own, Simpson has stood apart from literary traditions and popular trends, finding a unique voice and vantage point to illuminate a common humanity.
Simpson’s first volume, The Arrivistes, includes poems of mixed forms and subjects. A sestina, a ballad, and a versified dialogue are found among lyrics on war, love, and death. In the book’s mixture of classical and modern materials, one finds Simpson’s major interests—the city, love, war, and art—all explored with irony and wit. His images have sharpness and emotive force: for example, “the sun was drawn bleeding across the hills” (“Jamaica”). Simpson’s interest in the wanderer is evident in “The Warrior’s Return” (the warrior being Odysseus) and in “Lazarus Convalescent,” in which the biblical Lazarus faintly...
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