Louis Simpson Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Louis Simpson’s contributions to criticism and literary analysis include The New Poets of England and America (1957; edited with Donald Hall and Robert Pack) and James Hogg: A Critical Study (1962). These two studies pointed the direction poetry, especially Simpson’s own, was to take in subsequent years. Simpson wrote several other works of literary criticism in following years, including Three on the Tower: The Lives and Works of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams in 1975. Another volume of criticism, A Revolution in Taste: Studies of Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Lowell, appeared in 1978. This work was followed by two other volumes, A Company of Poets (1981) and The Character of the Poet (1986), which expanded and defined Simpson’s literary tastes, principles, and objectives. Prolific into the 1990’s, Simpson published more literary studies in Ships Going into the Blue: Essays and Notes on Poetry in 1994.

Simpson’s only novel, Riverside Drive (1962), won critical respect but convinced him that his talent was better suited to poetry, although his reputation as a literary critic brought him much respect in later years. North of Jamaica (1972) is a prose account of his childhood in Jamaica, his wartime experiences, and his teaching career at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley. This autobiography introduces the reader to Simpson’s ideas on poetry as he saw it being practiced and as he thought it should be written. The book shows how much of Simpson’s poetry derives from his own life and how seamlessly the two are joined. The autobiographical account is continued in The King My Father’s Wreck (1995).

Louis Simpson Achievements

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Louis Simpson’s literary career has generated enough commentary to rank him among the major poets of the second half of the twentieth century. His war poems have been called the best to come out of World War II, and his literary criticism has gained him additional respect. His poetic reputation was barely established when he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1957, and this award was followed in 1964 by a Pulitzer Prize for his collection of poems At the End of the Open Road. He also received the Edna St. Vincent Millay Award (1960), a Silver Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California (1965) for Selected Poems, Guggenheim Fellowships (1962, 1970), and an Academy Award in Literature (1976) from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology garnered the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award in 1998. Perhaps much of the respect he has earned as a critic stems from his not aligning himself with any literary school or movement. In 2004, he was a finalist for the Griffen prize.

Louis Simpson Bibliography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Beaver, Harold. “Foot Soldier for Life.” Parnassus 21, nos. 1/2 (1996): 138-145. Beaver takes an overview of Simpson’s poetic career, picking up on the promise of his early war poems and asking to what extent this has been fulfilled.

Lazer, Hank. “Louis Simpson and Walt Whitman: Destroying the Teacher.” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 1 (December, 1983): 1-21. Lazer believes that Simpson’s poetic development since 1963 has been shaped by Simpson’s “dialogue” with Whitman.

_______, ed. On Louis Simpson: Depths Beyond Happiness. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988. Simpson himself said that one “should definitely have” this book. Lazer’s introduction surveys the criticism of Simpson’s work. The book itself offers shorter reviews and longer essays.

Makuck, Peter. “The Simpson House: Sixty-one Years in Construction.” Review of The Owner of the House. Hudson Review 57, no. 2 (Summer, 2004): 335-344. Makuck sympathetically reviews the work, using the theme of the title poem to create an overview of Simpson’s main directions.

Mason, David. “Louis Simpson’s Singular Charm.” Hudson Review 48, no. 3 (Autumn, 1995): 499-507. Mason examines Simpson’s literary theories and ideas as they are revealed in his poetry, criticism,...

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