Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Hollywood. Southern California home of the young movie industry, as well as of Randall Jarrell’s grandparents. In 1926 Jarrell’s parents separated and sent Jarrell to live with his grandparents and great-grandmother in Hollywood. In 1962 Jarrell’s mother returned to him the letters he had written to her during that period, and they opened a world of memory—a lost world that became the subject of this series of poems.

The opening lines of “The Lost World” recall a “camera man on a platform on the bumper of a car,” a movie lot that used wind machines to create a blizzard, and the papier-mâché dinosaurs used in the making of the fantasy film The Lost World (1925). Another poem recalls a friend of Jarrell’s aunt whom Jarrell visited often who owned the famous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion.

The poems’ juxtaposition of Hollywood images and Jarrell’s childhood memories reminds readers that the past, like the movies, is a strange compilation of image, memory, imagination, and symbol. A movie is a way of representing a world that exists nowhere but in the filmmaker’s mind. Likewise, a poem about an event from childhood is a way of representing a world that exists nowhere but in the poet’s mind. Thus, the past is truly the “lost world” Jarrell traverses in these poems, made particularly potent by the connection with the illusion and reality of Hollywood.