NABOKV-L post 0014145, Wed, 22 Nov 2006 08:35:34 EST

Re: Quality of Edsel Ford

Now that I’ve read through Edsel’s A Thicket of Sky, 1961, I must revise
my opinion of his verse. It was by unfortunate accident that my first
impression was formed by
………. bound to a solemn task
Which wasn’t interrupted even to ask
The time.
This is perhaps the lamest passage in his output, and the general level of
the oeuvre is really not bad at all. Imho. The poems are generally
well-finished, carefully composed, pleasant and endearing in a gentle way. If one wanted
to be unkind, one might call their overall character rather Reader’s Digest,
They are very definitely sub-Frost, rural, folksy; but without Frost’s
incisiveness, eg “Good fences make good neighbours”, which, imho, is the kind of
hard line that lifts Frost above the ordinary. It is interesting that in
high-school Ford claimed Shakespeare, Longfellow, Millay as his favourite poets
(Wikipedia). Frost may have been a later unacknowledged influence.
The willow bough and the twisted stump, recalling Shade’s description of
himself, come from The Return to Sunday Creek, which was published in 1956, in a
collection of the same name. It seems to me quite possible that VN had read
this collection, as the date coincides quite well. The Image of Desire and
Whatever Voice, which Matthew quoted, may have appeared in a collection called
The Image of Desire, which I haven’t got a date for, but which would have
appeared pre-1961. So, if VN knew these poems, he could have seen them in a
published collection, before writing Pale Fire, and not necessarily in a journal.
The feeling one gets, however, is that on the whole these are poems written
for the sake of writing poems, as Andrew Brown indicated. As an undergraduate
I went through a phase of writing one or two sonnets every week. After a
couple of years, on looking through them, I threw over 50 of them away in a
frenzy of self-criticism, deciding that they were simply academic exercises. I
didn’t think they were bad, but just not up to the level I aspired to.
I feel the same about Shade’s poem: a verse narrative written, ultimately,
for the sake of writing a narrative in verse. It is the commentary which
adds the special, zesty element of genius, giving the book its unique and
permanent standing as a work of art. Regarding the work as an exceptionally
stimulating critical disquisition on the mystery of excellence in literary
performance seems to me the most rewarding way of approaching it. It is also very,
very funny. The first time I read it, I found myself repeatedly laughing aloud.

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