RANDALL JARRELL AND HIS AGE
Ordinarily, a book-length study of an American poet-critic almost 40 years dead isn't news, unless the poet-critic is T.S. Eliot. Yet this monograph from Burt is an exception. Burt (Popular Music) is one of the leading poet-critics of his own emerging generation, turning out an astonishing amount of terrific review-based criticism in places like the TLS and New York Times from his perch as an assistant professor of English at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. His project here is nothing less than the full-scale rehabilitation of Jarrell (1914–1965), who is best remembered for Poetry and the Age (1953), a series of essays that changed the way his contemporaries read Robert Frost (and told them how to read Robert Lowell, among other poets); his best-known poem is the searing "90 North," comparing self-exploration to polar exploration with magnificent results. Burt, playing off Jarrell's title, casts him as the product of an age preoccupied with Freud and Freudianism. Jarrell's particular psychological lens was developmental; he wrote numerous children's books, and his work expressed his "preoccupations with youth, age, and aging." After a preliminary biographical chapter, Burt traces Jarrell's elaboration of his major themes, tracking him through "Jarrell's Interpersonal Style," "Institutions, Professions, Criticism," "Men, Women, Children, Families" "Time and Memory" and other rubrics, bringing to bear a great deal of primary source social science that, as Burt shows, shaped Jarrell. Anyone with an interest in how the "Age of Anxiety" (an Auden poem Jarrell hated) expressed itself through one of its most sensitive souls will find this book a window into a lost intellectual world. (Jan.)
Forecast:With blurbs from Louis Menand and Helen Vendler, this is not an ordinary first critical book from an assistant professor. Look for fans of Burt's poetry and review criticism to seek this one out, particularly given the steady release of new and reissued Jarrelliana.