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The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane by…

The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane (edition 2000)

by Paul Mariani

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Title:The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane
Authors:Paul Mariani
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2000), Paperback, 512 pages
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The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane by Paul Mariani



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Paul Mariani's biography of Hart Crane is captivating and illuminating. It provides exactly what I was looking for - a nonjudgmental account of Crane's life - but it is also a terrifically detailed examination of his poems and a clear portrait of the life of an artist in New York City in the 1920s.

Hart Crane led a fascinating, if tragic, life - the son of a successful businessman, his father tried to break his spirit by forcing him to work in the lowest jobs in his factories for next to nothing. Crane struggled on the edge of poverty while maintaining his involvement with the writers and artists of the day, going on wild benders and having numerous (gay) love affairs. As well, in addition to writing his brilliant poetry, we can see from his numerous letters to friends and fellow artists, that Crane possessed a keen critical eye to the art movements of the time.

I greatly appreciated how Mariani took numerous passages from Crane's poetry and explained them in context with the poet's life. He also did this with great insight and empathy. Chapter 7 contains the most thorough and beautiful breakdown of the poem "Voyages" - yes, inspired by his romance with the sailor Emil, but Mariani expands on this in wonderful detail:

"Is it the unutterable Word of Love the poet wishes to celebrate, 'the imaged Word,' holding in its glow a figure that meant everything to Crane, those 'hushed willows,' which he would evoke again in 'Repose to Rivers': childhood innocence, elegy, loss? Not the death of love, then, but rather the death of the death of love. Lovers may and do betray each other, Crane too well knew. But that did not mean that the sacred idea of love need be compromised. Love remained unbetrayable . . . Love was a phoenix, dying and being continually reborn in the imagination, rising from its own spent ashes. It is a yes and a yes, 'Whose accent no farewell can know,' that 'know' punning on the negation of 'no.'" (p. 161)

Using excerpts from Crane's letters, Mariani shows his insight and critiques of poetry, literature and art. There is a wealth of great insight into poetry and into the mind of Hart Crane:

"The search for language and the search for love: were they not part of the same visionary endeavor? A mouth for kissing, for speaking, eating, exploring with, until the human voice uttered itself in trembling ecstasy, a cry costing not less than everything, the body spent time and time again, the body rocking and coming, hoping each time for that elusive, perfect ecstasy. Not an intimation of the thing, but the thing itself, caught tremulously in the act of language, a coming back and back again to the burning flame . . . until the self lay shattered by the vision. To approach the flame, to immolate oneself, attempting the impossible brilliance of the poem again and yet again, refusing to regret the inevitable failures and the growing losses." (p. 164 - 165)

"Experience was the springboard that led to a higher state of consciousness and that might end in a glimpse of radical innocence, or absolute beauty, or spiritual illumination: a shining moment . . . alchemized out of the stuff of experience. The result . . . a poem that left the reader with 'a single, new word, never before spoken and impossible to actually enunciate, but self-evident as an active principle in the reader's consciousness henceforward.' Within each successful poem, then, lay an 'implicit emotional dynamics' reflected in the associational meanings of each word revealed through a logic of metaphor or dreams, itself the genesis of all speech, and thus of human consciousness. (p.195)

This is an endlessly fascinating and beautifully written biography of the poet Hart Crane. Highly recommended. ( )
  catfantastic | Feb 22, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393320413, Paperback)

In addition to several volumes of poetry, Paul Mariani has also written biographies of major 20th-century American poets: William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman. In his fourth biography, he takes on the life of Hart Crane (1899-1932), a contemporary of Williams who held a similarly pivotal role in the development of American literature's avant-garde. "It would be difficult," Mariani suggests, "to find a serious poet or reader of poetry in this country today who has not been touched by something in Hart Crane's music." (However, at the time, many critics--with some of whom he had strained personal relationships--did not evaluate his work so highly, which contributed in part to Crane's dramatic suicidal leap off a ship at sea.) Crane loved New York, moving there from his hometown of Cleveland as soon as he could; even when financial straits forced him to return home to work for his father, the "white buildings" of Manhattan loomed in his imagination. The Broken Tower does a fine job of recreating the passionate energy and vitality of Crane's life. Mariani weaves lines from Crane's letters and poems into his narrative throughout, and while he does not skimp in his accounts of the poet's alcoholism and promiscuous sex life with other men, he treats these matters simply as components of the poet's complex personality.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:36 -0400)

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