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Gin Before Breakfast: The Dilemma of the Poet in the Newsroom

W. Dale Nelson, Author
W. Dale Nelson, Author . Syracuse Univ. $24.95 (242p) ISBN 978-0-8156-0888-2
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N elson (Who Speaks for the President: The White House Press Secretary from Cleveland to Clinton ), who spent 40 years as an Associated Press reporter, contemplates the chasm separating poetry and journalism, observing, “Newspaper stories tell us about names and titles, distances and populations, fatality totals and investigations. Poems tell us about ourselves.” Exploring influences of one form on the other in this insightful study, he profiles famous and obscure British and American poets who labored as journalists. Poets had been told to avoid journalism as they would “gin before breakfast,” said Archibald MacLeish, who landed his job with Fortune because “Luce... believed it was easier to turn a poet into a business journalist than to make a writer out of a bookkeeper.” Analyzing the lives and language of Coleridge, Poe, Kipling, Sandburg and others, Nelson finds a few, notably Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas, were ill-suited for journalism, but many benefited. With Whittier's antislavery poems, poetry and journalism merged: “Whittier the editorialist and Whittier the poet had come together triumphantly,” Nelson concludes. “The concreteness that is important to journalism can help avoid the vagueness that sometimes afflicts poetry, and fresh metaphors can serve the newspaper writer as well as the poet.” Illus. (July)

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