R. P. Blackmur Blackmur, R(ichard) P(almer) (Vol. 2)

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Blackmur, R(ichard) P(almer) (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Blackmur, R(ichard) P(almer) 1904–1965

American poet and critic. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 25-28.)

The most successful of R. P. Blackmur's early poems were modeled on those of Yeats. Their style was at once too open and too objective for the material and temperament of the poet—and such an inheritance has to be worked out, not simply appropriated, if it is ever to be your own. Many of Mr. Blackmur's later poems were written as the man in the story played the violin, by main force; they seemed interesting as an awkward, tortured, and honest diary, but surprisingly unsuccessful as works of art. One felt that they were mired both in their raw material and—more especially—in the raw act of writing, of making: they had too little spontaneity, grace, or autonomy to give delight. But two or three of the poems in this last book, The Good European, are successful, and most of them are interesting…. These are poems of the most extreme situations possible, of a constricted, turned-in-upon-itself, contorted, almost tetanic agony: the poet not only works against the grain of things, but the grain is all knots….

Mr. Blackmur's poems are troubling, difficult, and serious poems; one needs a good deal of time to get used to them—and they are printed, quite elaborately, in an extraordinary type that one has almost to learn to read. Readers are most likely to be repelled by their stubborn awkwardness; their crudities, their sometimes barbarous word-twisting; their nightmarish unpleasantness; their echoes. But one could defend them by saying that the awkwardness is that persisted-in folly which becomes wisdom; that the crudities ruin some poems and flaw others, but in the two or three best poems disappear or are incidental; that the nightmarishness is also that of our world; and that the echoes are either inconsequential … or else the consequence of using Hopkins as a source pretty much as the metaphysicals used Donne….

Randall Jarrell, in his Poetry and the Age (© 1953 by Randall Jarrell; reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), Knopf-Vintage, 1953, pp. 151-53.

It seems to me that Blackmur was always at his best and most rewarding when he felt it necessary to attach his ideas to some real, geographical places … or to anchor himself to a text. When he is invited, by something like Arnold Toynbee's "A Study of History," to go on a balloon ascension, he rises into his own stratosphere of ellipsis, abstraction, and impossible style. I have a feeling that Blackmur has already been relegated, by students and younger readers of criticism, to a past generation—too many of them have been put off by such flights. It is unfortunate; the best of Blackmur's criticism is both brilliant and lucid. This volume could have done better service to his memory if the essays that are largely abstractions about abstractions had been kept out and assigned to a book of Blackmur supra-criticism. But Blackmur, the eccentric thinking man on tour, is well worth meeting….

Robie Macauley, "The Critic as Pundit," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 12, 1967.

Blackmur had no sympathy for criticism as dissection, "the discovery of difficulties and their exegesis or explication for its own sake." The movement toward analysis and intrinsic touchstones was "professional or trade criticism," and he was impatient with any approach that he saw as purely descriptive, such as sociological or psychological modes.

Geoffrey Wagner, in Commonweal (reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), March 3, 1967, p. 628.

Blackmur's ideals have an enormous relevance today, as our culture continually becomes more multifarious; for he suggests that audiences, as well as critics, should be not monoliterate, which is to say specialists in only one field, but polyliterate, familiar with the "vocabularies" and traditions of several fields.

Richard Kostelanetz,...

(The entire section is 1,643 words.)