Turner Cassity Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

While primarily a poet, Turner Cassity also wrote several uncollected short stories, a poetic drama (Men of the Great Man, contained in Yellow for Peril, Black for Beautiful), and an essay on the cataloging of periodicals,“Gutenberg as Card Shark,” published in The Academic Library: Essays in Honor of Guy R. Lyle (1974).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Perhaps because of its traditional form, Turner Cassity’s poetry has received less attention than it deserves. Cassity won the Blumenthal-Leviton-Blonder Prize for poetry in 1966, the Levinson Prize from the Poetry Foundation in 1971, the Michael Braude Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1993, and a Georgia Author of the Year Award for Devils and Islands from the Georgia Writers Association in 2007. He also was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1980 and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award in 1991. In 2008, the West Chester Poetry Conference included a “Tribute to Turner Cassity” in its program.

Although Cassity had a large group of supporters, he had little influence on the course of contemporary writing, except perhaps as a precursor of the New Formalist school. Further attention to Cassity’s work should continue to reveal both the significance of his refusal to write a less traditional, more accessible type of poetry, and the importance of his unique and challenging view, a view that rewards even as it frustrates the reader’s expectations of what contemporary poetry should be.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ash, John. “A Brash Yankee and a Southern Dandy.” Review of Hurricane Lamp. The New York Times Book Review, April 20, 1986, p. 19. Appreciates this work’s juxtaposition of the ordinary and the exotic. Remarks that Cassity’s insistence on formality makes for rigid and monotonous reading, but his poetry is never self-indulgent or maudlin. Comments that Cassity, at his best, combines “elegance with an attractive pungency.”

Barth, R. L., Susan Barth, and Charles Gullans. A Bibliography of the Published Works of Turner Cassity, 1952-1987. Florence, Ky.: Author, 1988. Useful compendium of Cassity’s titles.

Flint, R. W. “Exiles from Olympus.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 5 (Spring/Summer, 1977): 97-107. Reviews Cassity’s works, in particular Yellow for Peril, Black for Beautiful, and Steeplejacks in Babel. Sympathetic to Cassity in that Flint values his taciturnity and declares him a poet to watch. Quotes from Watchboy, What of the Night? and compares his work to Nadine Gordimer’s uncompromising style.

Gioia, Dana. “Poetry and the Fine Presses.” Hudson Review 35 (Autumn, 1982): 438-498. Gives extravagant praise to Cassity by calling him the “most brilliantly eccentric poet in America.” Although Gioia clearly enjoys Cassity’s poetry, he regrets how “few of his poems really show all he is capable of.” Notes that The Defense of the Sugar Islands was a real breakthrough for Cassity, that his full range of talents came into being in these poems, which have as much emotional and intellectual force as technical virtuosity.

Steele, Timothy. “Curving to Foreign Harbors: Turner Cassity’s Defense of the Sugar Islands.” Review of The Defense of the Sugar Islands. Southern Review 17 (Winter, 1981): 205-213. Outlines the structure of the retrospective poem. Steele argues for the work’s success on balance but acknowledges some reservations, notably the “frequent density of Cassity’s syntax” and the fact that important details are withheld.

Tillinghast, Richard. “Poems That Get Their Hands Dirty.” The New York Times Book Review, December 18, 1991, p. 7. Compares Cassity’s Between the Chains to Adrienne Rich’s An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems, 1988-1991 (1991) and Philip Levine’s What Work Is (1991).

Tuma, Keith. “Turner Cassity.” In American Poets Since World War II, Second Series, edited by R. S. Gwynn. Vol. 102 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991. Provides a basic biography of Cassity and an analysis of his works.