The Fading Smile

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE FADING SMILE constitutes the memoirs of one who took part in the great accomplishments of American poetry in the late 1950’s. At its best, the book takes the reader directly to times and places, for example to Robert Lowell’s classroom, where he sat distractedly in a window, immediately before confining himself to a mental hospital. He had just finished “the most influential book of American poetry for a generation,” LIFE STUDIES; it was published shortly afterward. Among Lowell’s students that April of 1959: George Starbuck, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath. Another story takes the reader backstage at the Poets’ Theatre, which survived as a forum for drama in verse for five years, presenting, among other things, Richard Wilbur’s superb translations of Moliere. This book is a must for readers of such poets of Richard Wilbur, Robert Frost, Maxine Kumin, Sexton, Plath, Lowell, Sissman, Kunitz, and Peter Davison himself.

THE FADING SMILE also offers samples of the poems that these poets wrote, along with commentary that develops a sense of the poetry’s relation to the time and place of its creation. Sometimes these poets knew each other well; they visited each other at their coldwater apartments, gossiped about one another, slept with each other. Sometimes they worked in isolation. Some of the poets wrote confessional poetry—a label that the critic M. L. Rosenthal, not they, invented—while others, such as Richard Wilbur, wrote impersonal...

(The entire section is 417 words.)