Louis Simpson Simpson, Louis (Vol. 149) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Louis Simpson 1923-2012

(Full name Louis Aston Marantz Simpson) American poet, critic, essayist, autobiographer, memoirist, novelist, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Simpson's career through 1996. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 7, 9, and 32.

One of the most distinguished American poets of the postwar era, Simpson is noted for his memorable examinations of his World War II combat experience, the disintegration of the American Dream, and the lives of ordinary middle-class Americans. An accomplished stylist whose early verse revealed his skill with traditional forms, Simpson began to experiment with free verse and conversational diction during the late 1950s to express the concerns and feelings of alienation common in mid- to late-twentieth-century American life. Though Simpson's style has evolved over time, his insistence on the role of the poet as a detached observer has remained constant. This aesthetic position has guided Simpson's discursive, often narrative approach and distanced him from the confessionalism of many poets who came of age during the 1960s. Simpson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for At the End of the Open Road (1963) which along with The Arrivistes (1949) and The Best Hour of the Night (1983), are considered to be among the most definitive poetic works of his generation.

Biographical Information

Born in Jamaica, Simpson was raised near Kingston by his father Aston, a lawyer of Scotch heritage, and his mother Rosalind de Marantz, of Polish Jewish ancestry. His parents later separated. At age seventeen, Simpson joined his mother in New York City and began attending Columbia University. His education was temporarily interrupted by his service in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945. As a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, Simpson saw combat overseas in the European campaign and participated in the Normandy D-Day invasion. By the end of World War II, he had earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and was naturalized as an American citizen. Simpson's military service provided him with exposure to European culture and instilled in him a deep and abiding respect for the United States. Returning to Columbia University after the war, he completed his B.S. degree in 1948. He would later earn an M.A. in 1950 and a Ph.D. in 1959. After completing his B.A., Simpson attended the Sorbonne in Paris before dropping out and finishing his first volume of poetry, The Arrivistes, which he self-published in 1949. During the same year, he returned to New York and married Jeanne Rogers, with whom he had a son. In the years between his graduate studies, Simpson worked as an editor for publisher Bobbs-Merrill and then as an instructor at Columbia University. His first marriage ended in divorce in 1954, and the next year he married Dorothy Roochvarg, with whom he had a son and a daughter. Upon completing his doctorate in 1959, Simpson taught at the University of California at Berkeley, where he produced a critical study of Scottish poet James Hogg, the poetry collection At the End of the Open Road, and his first volume of Selected Poems (1965). In 1967, he returned to New York as an English professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he remained until the 1990s. Simpson divorced a second time in 1979, and in 1985 married his third wife, Miriam Butensky Bachner. In addition to the 1964 Pulitzer prize, Simpson has received numerous honors, including the Prix de Rome in 1957, American Academy of Arts and Letters fellowship in 1957, the Edna St. Vincent Millay Memorial Award in 1960, Guggenheim fellowships in 1962 and 1970, a grant from the American Council for Learned Societies in 1963, Columbia University's Medal for Excellence in 1965, the American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature in 1976, the Jewish Book Council's Award for Poetry in 1981, and the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award in 1987.

Major Works

Simpson's poetry reflects his wartime experiences, his cynicism over the debased values of contemporary America, and his appreciation of common Americans. In The Arrivistes, Simpson drew directly upon his World War II experiences to relate the terror and loneliness that afflicts the combat soldier. In “Carentan O Carentan,” a ballad about American infantrymen ambushed by German soldiers, Simpson describes the shattering loss of innocence wrought by war. These wartime poems are contrasted with poems that deal with sensual love, such as the Elizabethan inspired “Song: ‘Rough Winds Do Shake the Darling Buds of May’” about the sexual awakening of an adolescent girl. Simpson's next collection, Good News of Death and Other Poems (1955) introduced what would become a central theme of his poetry—the examination of modern American life. In addition to war poems relating horror and humiliation, and love poems that pay tribute to past relationships, Simpson's “American culture” poems contrast the hope and promise of early America with the crowded, commercialized culture of the modern United States. Simpson developed his own uniquely American themes (citing Walt Whitman as a major influence), including recurring references to automobiles, highways, real estate development, television, salesmen, shopping malls, and other fixtures of suburban life. In A Dream of Governors (1959), Simpson further explored contemporary America life and the effects of World War II, while straying from traditional verse forms to experiment with free verse. More than half of the volume is dedicated to war poems, including “The Runner,” a long narrative poem about the experiences of an American soldier named Dodd who acts as a messenger during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.

At the End of the Open Road marks an important stylistic departure for Simpson, as he abandoned conventional rhyme and meter in favor of free verse, colloquial language, and a “deep image” aesthetic influenced by Robert Bly. In “Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain” (which is considered to be a milestone in his career), Simpson rails against Whitman's optimistic prophecies for America, writing, “Where are you, Walt? / The Open Road goes to the used-car lot.” Simpson also experimented with surreal imagery in several of his poems, such as “My Father in the Night Commanding No,” a rendering of a childhood memory, and “The Troika,” a nightmarish World War I vision. Additionally, Simpson condemns the banality and conformity of American society in the six-line poem “In the Suburbs,” which begins, “There's no way out. / You were born to waste your life. / You were born to this middle-class life.” In Adventures of the Letter I (1971) Simpson explores his maternal Russian ancestry—including an entire section on the people of the Volhynia province—and the notion of the poet as a personified transmitter of creative vision. Published near the end of the Vietnam War, the collection also reaffirms Simpson's criticism of American imperialism and consumer culture.

In Searching for the Ox (1976), whose title is derived from a series of Zen Buddhist illustrations, Simpson explored new territory, writing about his youth in Jamaica and New York and the significance of the poet in the modern world. While previously drawing upon Whitman as his model, Simpson drew on the works of William Wordsworth as inspiration for Searching for the Ox. In Caviare at the Funeral (1980), Simpson revisited the subject of his childhood and family heritage, notably in “Why Do You Write About Russia?,” as well as his interest in Russian author Anton Chekhov and his characteristic scorn for American materialism. The poem “American Classic,” for example, describes a couple whose broken-down car leaves them stranded and embarrassed on the roadside. The Best Hour of the Night (1983) focuses on the small dramas of suburban life, including marriages, divorces, and trivial daily events raised to the level of profundity, as in “Physical Universe” and “Quiet Desperation.” In the long poem “The Previous Tenant,” the narrator gradually learns through fragments of gossip and old letters about the former inhabitant of his apartment, an adulterous surgeon who had been ostracized by the community. Simpson took up similar domestic and quotidian subjects with In the Room We Share (1990), and continued to expand on his casual, unadorned verse. The concluding piece in the volume is a prose memoir about Simpson's visit to his ailing mother in Italy. He continued in this vein in There You Are (1995), a collection of poems that focus on describing the lives of ordinary, everyday characters.

Simpson has published several significant cumulative volumes, including Selected Poems, People Live Here (1983), a volume of new and selected poems spanning from 1949 to 1983, and his Collected Poems (1988). He has also published two volumes of prose collections, Selected Prose (1988), which includes letters, autobiographic sketches, journal entries, and literary essays, and Ships Going into the Blue (1995), an assemblage of critical writings, autobiographic sketches, speeches and prose fragments. In addition to poetry, Simpson has produced a novel, Riverside Drive (1962), the autobiographical works North of Jamaica (1972) and The King My Father's Wreck (1995), and literary criticism, including Three on the Tower (1975), a study of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams; A Revolution in Taste (1978), a study of Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Lowell; A Company of Poets (1981) and The Character of the Poet (1986).

Critical Reception

Simpson's war poetry is regarded by critics as among the most important of his generation. In particular, the oft-anthologized poem “Carentan O Carentan” is frequently cited as one of the most powerful pieces of verse to be inspired by the Second World War. Likewise, Simpson's bitter denunciations of American expansionism and his dramatizations of suburban disillusionment—especially those found in The Best Hour of the Night—are viewed by many as among the finest poems on the subject. Regardless of theme, Simpson's poetry has been praised for its concise, lyrical, often understated expression of profound ideas and for Simpson's complex juxtapositions of irony and compassion. Simpson's later free verse has been noted for its formal structure and sly charm, especially his mastery of the line and phrasing that captures the cadences peculiar to American speech. Among Simpson's large number of individual collections, The Arrivistes, At the End of the Open Road, Searching for the Ox, and The Best Hour of the Night have been generally regarded as his most successful. While many critics have praised Simpson's early verse for its command of traditional forms and unusual ability to convey modern themes in conventional rhyme and meter, other critics, most notably Robert Bly, have found Simpson's use of traditional forms ill-suited to contemporary interests. Though Simpson's free verse experiments in A Dream of Governors have received mixed assessment, At the End of the Open Road was widely praised as a watershed in Simpson's career and cited as evidence that Simpson has achieved a satisfying balance between form and meaning that demonstrates his maturation and confidence. Simpson's later collection, In the Room We Share, has been praised by some reviewers as the culmination of Simpson's unadorned style and accessibility, though others have commented that Simpson took his understatement too far, resulting in slackness and banality. While Simpson's autobiographic works and critical studies are regarded as significant references for understanding his evolving poetic voice and style, they have not garnered the same critical stature as his poetry.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Arrivistes: Poems, 1940–1949 (poetry) 1949

Good News of Death and Other Poems (poetry) 1955

A Dream of Governors (poetry) 1959

James Hogg: A Critical Study (criticism) 1962

Riverside Drive (novel) 1962

At the End of the Open Road (poetry) 1963

Selected Poems (poetry) 1965

An Introduction to Poetry [editor; second edition] (criticism) 1967

Adventures of the Letter I (poetry) 1971

North of Jamaica [also published as Air with Armed Men] (autobiography) 1972


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Duane Locke (review date 1964)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “New Directions in Poetry: The Work of Louis Simpson,” in On Louis Simpson: Depths Beyond Happiness, edited by Hank Lazer, University of Michigan Press, 1988, pp. 63–65.

[In the following review, originally published in 1964, Locke addresses Simpson's change of style and focus in At the End of the Open Road.]

So much of modern art is concerned with the reaction or depiction of an endowed and cultivated sensibility in a civilization dedicated to a shallow hedonism: the worship of cigarettes, TV sets, bowling, beer, and real estate. Many of Louis Simpson's finest poems, in a distinctive and unique way, are centered on this concern. His work prior to At...

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Mark Nepo (review date 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Poetry and Its Genesis in the Twentieth Century,” in On Louis Simpson: Depths Beyond Happiness, edited by Hank Lazer, University of Michigan Press, 1988, pp. 112–16.

[In the following review, originally published in 1980, Nepo commends Simpson's analysis of Imagism in Three on the Tower.]

The little seed of the Imagist movement made a great tree with twigs and leaves spreading over the world.

Three on the Tower

Simpson seems to view literary history as a chemist's funnel with a long plastic stem. The point at which the funnel fans out marks the beginning of the...

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Louis Simpson with Peter Stitt (interview date 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Interview with Louis Simpson,” in The World's Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets, University of Georgia Press, 1985, pp. 140–58.

[In the following interview, originally conducted in 1980, Simpson discusses his formative influences, his approach to writing poetry, his artistic aims and thematic concern with ordinary experience, and his views on contemporary American poetry.]

The interview was originally conducted at Mr. Simpson's home in Port Jefferson, New York, in March of 1977. Searching for the Ox had been published in 1976 and Mr. Simpson was working on his third volume of criticism, A Revolution in Taste: Studies of Dylan Thomas,...

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Peter Makuck (review date 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Caviare,” in On Louis Simpson: Depths Beyond Happiness, edited by Hank Lazer, University of Michigan Press, 1988, pp. 147–55.

[In the following review, originally published in 1981, Makuck offers a positive assessment of Caviare at the Funeral.]

Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit. Celui-ci voudrait souffrir en face du poêle, et celui-là croit qu'il guérirait a côté de la fenêtre.


Since the Pulitzer Prize—winning volume At the End of the Open Road (1963) through Adventures of the Letter...

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Hank Lazer (essay date 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Louis Simpson and Walt Whitman,” in On Louis Simpson: Depths Beyond Happiness, edited by Hank Lazer, University of Michigan Press, 1988, pp. 275–302.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1983, Lazer examines Simpson's assimilation of Whitman's poetic themes, style, and voice, and Simpson's subsequent effort to come to terms with Whitman's influence after rejecting his overly idealized vision of America.]

With regard to recent American poetry, it is easy and fruitful to trace the influence of Walt Whitman. Particularly with the revolution in style that began in the mid-fifties with Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems and that...

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R. W. Flint (essay date Fall/Winter 1983–Spring/Summer 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Child of This World,” in Parnassus, Vol. 11, No. 2, Fall/Winter 1983–Spring/Summer 1984, pp. 302–17.

[In the following review of A Company of Poets, People Live Here, and The Best Hour of the Night, Flint discusses Simpson's place among postwar American poets and examines the defining characteristics and development of his thematic concerns and poetic style.]

The final test of a poet with legitimate claims to being a master of the speaking voice might be a verbatim transcription from his Index of First Lines. Let me turn to page 211 of People Live Here and see how this works for Louis Simpson.

A bell and rattle,...

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John Lucas (review date 22 June 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Innocence and Experience,” in New Statesman, June 22, 1984, pp. 23–24.

[In the following excerpt, Lucas offers a positive assessment of People Live Here.]

The Second World War was in a sense America's first. How would their soldier-poets write about it? Randall Jarrell, who didn't go to the war but who had read Owen and Sassoon, took an expected route. The waste of war, the pity of war: these themes produced such classics as ‘Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner,’ ‘Eighth Air-Force’ and ‘Pilots Man Your Planes.’ For Louis Simpson it was very different. He fought across Europe, from Normandy to Germany. ‘During the war I felt there was an...

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Mark Irwin (review date Autumn 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of People Live Here, in World Literature Today, Vol. 58, No. 4, Autumn, 1984, p. 602.

[In the following review, Irwin offers a positive assessment of People Live Here.]

People Live Here, the unassuming title of Louis Simpson's Selected Poems, provides a major body of work whose accessibility has always been determined by its truth, clarity and a profound simplicity reminiscent of the Russian storytellers, most notably Chekhov. Simpson's concerns are moral ones, and this expansive volume ironically portrays an American journey that moves from the bare and vital life of the infantryman to the hollow life of the contemporary suburban...

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Paul Breslin (review date December 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Best Hour of the Night, in Poetry, Vol. CXLV, No. 3, December, 1984, pp. 161–63.

[In the following excerpt, Breslin offers a positive assessment of The Best Hour of the Night.]

The various experiments in making poetry more like prose over the last thirty years or so have often involved a suspicion of complexity or nuance; Frank Bidart and Louis Simpson stand out for their willingness to use the full range of educated speech. The uses to which they put that speech, however, differ widely. Bidart dwells continually on what Vaslav Nijinsky, the speaker of the long opening poem, calls “the Great Questions / like WAR and GUILT and...

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Peter Stitt (essay date 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Louis Simpson: In Search of the American Self,” in The World's Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets, University of Georgia Press, 1985, pp. 109–39.

[In the following essay, Stitt provides an overview of Simpson's poetic development, his American sensibility, his thematic preoccupation with ordinary American experience and social alienation, and his aesthetic and stylistic approach to poetry.]

The story American literature tells is so often that of a virtuous individual, who seeks complete freedom for self-expression, pitted against a community that is at best repressive and at worst unjust, perhaps even immoral. Consider Melville's White Jacket and...

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Francine Ringold (review date Winter 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Best Hour of the Night, in World Literature Today, Vol. 59, No. 1, Winter, 1985, pp. 95–96.

[In the following review, Ringold offers a positive assessment of The Best Hour of the Night.]

A lyrical writer of power and delicacy, Louis Simpson shines once again in The Best Hour of the Night. Simpson, author of nine books of poetry, including At the End of the Open Road, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, is not one to hedge from his commitment to even the most mundane and unpleasant elements of everyday life or to poetry.

“The Previous Tenant,” a narrative poem at the center of the book and of Simpson's...

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John Mole (review date November 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Seeing and Believing,” in Encounter, Vol. LXVII, No. 4, November, 1986, pp. 54–63.

[In the following review, Mole offers a positive assessment of People Live Here.]

It is getting harder and harder to write a poem. That is, I can start one well enough—but how to finish.” Only a confident poet risks making a statement like that in the secret knowledge that he will get away with it and deserves to; knowledge also that as a direct witness to his commitment it is part of the greater risk of presuming to write poetry at all. In this case the poet is Louis Simpson, examining his craft in a marvellously candid working autobiography—Air with Armed...

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William Pratt (review date Spring 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Character of the Poet, in World Literature Today, Vol. 61, No. 2, Spring, 1987, pp. 289–90.

[In the following review, Pratt offers a positive assessment of The Character of the Poet.]

“I was born in Jamaica in the British West Indies of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father,” Louis Simpson writes [in The Character of the Poet], and from such a mixture of race and place he has made himself into an American poet—both an immigrant and an expatriate poet, since he tells us his first book of poems was published in Paris at his own expense, during a year when he was studying French to see if he could be influenced by French...

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Robert Bly (essay date 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Work of Louis Simpson,” in On Louis Simpson: Depths Beyond Happiness, edited by Hank Lazer, University of Michigan Press, 1988, pp. 245–57.

[In the following essay, originally published in three separate sections in 1958, 1960, and 1976, respectively, Bly praises the power and sensitivity of Simpson's verse, particularly in dealing with World War II, but cites shortcomings in his choice of traditional forms and attachment to certain quotidian subjects.]

[The three sections of the following essay, here presented collectively, were originally published separately in 1958, 1960, and 1976, respectively.]



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Diane Wakoski (review date Winter 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Stalking the Barbaric Yawp,” in Georgia Review, Vol. XLIII, No. 4, Winter, 1989, pp. 804–15.

[In the following excerpt, Wakoski addresses Simpson's detached intelligence and effort to embrace common American experience, as reflected in Collected Poems.]

The Modernists took on the twentieth century with bravery and gusto and (in Stevens’ word) nobility. … The source of their brave nobility was … the conviction shared by the Imagists and Symbolistes alike that their technical mastery of the medium would summon and demonstrate a power of imagination adequate to the task of wringing order out of the confusion around them. …...

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Robert McDowell (review date Spring 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Sky Lit with Artillery: The Poems of Louis Simpson,” in Hudson Review, Vol. XLII, No. 1, Spring, 1989, pp. 158–64.

[In the following review, McDowell offers a positive assessment of Simpson's Collected Poems and praises Simpson's contribution to American poetry.]

Of the eight individual and two selected volumes that Louis Simpson has written and published since 1949, four are definitive books in the development of twentieth-century American poetry. They include The Arrivistes: Poems, 1940–1949, At the End of the Open Road (1963), Searching for the Ox (1976), and The Best Hour of the Night (1983). Though all ten...

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Ashley Brown (review date Spring 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Selected Prose, in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 2, Spring, 1990, p. 316.

[In the following review, Brown offers a positive assessment of Simpson's Selected Prose.]

Louis Simpson's Selected Prose is a companion volume to his recent Collected Poems (1988). Although he has long been established as an important American poet of his generation, born in the same year (1923) as James Dickey, Anthony Hecht, and several others, he came to the States from a somewhat exotic milieu in Jamaica. His father was a lawyer of Scottish descent; his mother was born in Russia. He immediately sets these facts before the reader in his foreword...

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Ashley Brown (review date Winter 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of In the Room We Share, in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 1, Winter, 1991, p. 117.

[In the following review, Brown offers a positive assessment of In the Room We Share.]

Louis Simpson has become one of the most prolific poets on the American scene. Only two years after his substantial Collected Poems (1988) he brings out In the Room We Share, a volume of forty-nine new poems that also includes a prose memoir of his mother in Italy during the summer of 1988. Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and others have included prose pieces in books of verse, so there is ample precedent for such a varied offering.

In a...

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Lachlan Mackinnon (review date 10 May 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mumbling and Clanging,” in Times Literary Supplement, May 10, 1991, p. 22.

[In the following excerpt, Mackinnon offers an unfavorable assessment of In the Room We Share.]

Louis Simpson's new book [In the Room We Share] contains forty-nine poems and a prose journal about a visit to his ailing mother in Italy. In the course of the latter, Simpson reads Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground. It “isn't a story, it reads like philosophy. I seem to recall that Saul Bellow was much taken with it at one time,” he observes. The tired slackness masks a barb, but that may not be intended: the difficulty of telling is not earned by the putative point,...

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Stephen Burt (review date 30 June 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Putting Down Smoke,” in Times Literary Supplement, June 30, 1995, p. 25.

[In the following review, Burt offers a negative assessment of Ships Going into the Blue.]

Like the fifty-odd other books in the University of Michigan's Poets on Poetry series, Louis Simpson's Ships Going into the Blue is a miscellany of its author's prose: one-paragraph fragments, memoirs, travel writing, book reviews, speeches, and semi-academic essays. Many of Simpson's own poems are anecdotes or narratives in as concrete and unadorned a language as he can manage. His pronouncements on poetry-in-general sound like this:

Poetry returns us...

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William Pratt (review date Summer 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Ships Going into the Blue, in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 3, Summer, 1995, p. 594.

[In the following review, Pratt offers a mixed assessment of Ships Going into the Blue, finding the collection “uneven, sometimes whimsical, but often provocative.”]

In an earlier book, The Character of the Poet, Louis Simpson contended that poetry suffers when poets lack character; in Ships Going into the Blue he contends that for art to be great, “it must proceed from a man or woman who is great.” So, against those who deplore the lack of readers for poetry, he soundly advises that “the way to overcome the present...

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David Mason (review date Autumn 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Louis Simpson's Singular Charm,” in Hudson Review, Vol. XLVIII, No. 3, Autumn, 1995, pp. 499–507.

[In the following review, Mason praises Simpson's war poems and his memoir, The King My Father's Wreck, but finds shortcomings in Ships Going into the Blue and Simpson's later poetry.]

They will send me off to Heaven
when all I want is to live in the world.

—“Searching for the Ox”

Louis Simpson was born in Jamaica in 1923, the son of a prominent lawyer and an aspiring opera singer whose family were Russian émigrés. Their marriage ended while Simpson was still in school. The boy who would become a...

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Harold Beaver (review date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Foot Soldier for Life,” in Parnassus, Vol. 21, Nos. 1–2, 1996, pp. 138–45.

[In the following review, Beaver discusses the evolution of Simpson's distinct poetic voice and aesthetic approach—as evident in Collected Poems and Selected Prose—and offers a favorable assessment of Simpson's mature work in There You Are and The King My Father's Wreck.]

With almost every volume of collected poems the question arises: Are we to read it from front to back or from back to front? That is, should the poet's completed opus be assessed from the perspective of its mature and final achievement or from the first careless rapture of its earliest...

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R. S. Gwynn (review date Winter 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Proseurs,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. CIV, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 142–49.

[In the following excerpt, Gwynn offers a positive assessment of Ships Going into the Blue.]

What happens when poets turn their hands to prose? We might expect that they would have an easy go of it, wouldn't we? Prose, after all, is easier to forge than poetry. Prose writers are spared having to learn phrases like medial caesura or substitute foot: all that each of them has to know is how to put a semicolon in its place and make subjects and verbs agree. Poets, on the other hand, go mad worrying about such silly matters as when to end their lines; now that...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Allen, Dick. “Signs of How We Must Seek.” Hudson Review XLIII, No. 3 (Autumn 1990): 509–20.

Allen offers a positive assessment of In the Room We Share.

Connolly, Cyril. “From ‘Academe and Open Air.’” In On Louis Simpson: Depths Beyond Happiness, edited by Hank Lazer, pp. 91–93. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988.

In this review, originally published in 1972 upon the publication of North of Jamaica, Connolly discusses Simpson's personal background and his place among postwar American poets.

Cramer, Steven. “Four True Voices of Feeling.”...

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