Friday, April 15, 2011

#3 and #4 Seeds


#3 Seeds:

A.) Tennessee Williams.

B.) Jack London.

C.) Henry James.

D.) Emily Dickinson.

#4 Seeds:

A.) Kenneth Rexroth.

B.) Sylvia Plath.

C.) Edgar Allan Poe.

D.) John Steinbeck.

Not many surprises, I hope. Rexroth was not only a great poet and essayist, he mentored and influenced the Beats in San Francisco. I don't believe Ginsberg's "Howl" would've been possible without the example of Rexroth's "Thou Shalt Not Kill" before it.

With the rise of the feminist movement in the 1970's, and the publication of Plath's autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath became something of a pop figure. But, the talent lives up to it. Not only did she master the elements of real poetry, rhythmns, euphony, symbols, but she added an intense insight and energy-- her personality-- to the words. As with Emily D's work, the best poetry is eternal.

Jack London? Possibly the best-known and loved American writer in the rest of the world. Few short story writers equalled his mastery of the form. None were better. Ya gotta also love his dog tales.

Tennessee Williams' plays remain potent and remembered. "Stella!"

Though he took American letters in the wrong direction, IMHO, the stuffy, overwritten, and the self-absorbed, Henry James had too much strong output overall for him to be ignored. Even some semi-pop stuff like "Daisy Miller" and "Turn of the Screw." My favorite James work is "Altar of the Dead." Perfect reading for the depressed!

Poe more-or-less invented the detective story and the horror genre, which we've been stuck with, for good and ill, since.

With such a tournament, the question is still who's been left out.


  1. Legacy seems to loom large--high bar for living writers. I think just Morrison so far? Will you post the cumulative list when you name the next seeds? I see a lot of good picks so far--also see somebody itching for a fight....

  2. I wouldn't have ranked Rexroth so high myself, but otherwise these picks seem about right to me.

  3. I see at least two Hall of Fame entries here, John Steinbeck, who wrote about the people who left behind the people I write about, and Emily Dickinson, who finally found her biographer in Richard Sewall.

    About Rexroth, I don't know, but far be it from me to throw anybody off a list. Writers deserve the attention.

  4. I felt that I couldn't put Ginsberg on the list before Rexroth, as R was a better poet and thinker, and as influential albeit in a quieter way.
    With any list like this, you need to throw in an occasional surprise.
    Re contemporary writers-- let's hear some suggestions. I don't see many with either the artistic accomplishment, or the standing within the society, to go ahead of some of these other names. I may be biased. (Several current writers are upcoming-- not necessarily what others would choose.)
    I hope to announce other seeds on Tuesday.
    (As Wimpy would famously say, "I'll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today.)

  5. Re: Contemporary Writers

    Chuck Palahniuk is someone you should consider. He has a huge following outside traditional lit circles. When he comes to NYC, he doesn't just read at a (barely filled) bar, like a lot of "famous" writers; they actually rent out an auditorium for him, and charge admission, and still pack the place. His books are "Pop" (and popular) without being genre fiction; he's a genius on the sentence level (partly because of the precision he learned as a working technical writer), and his books are brilliantly structured, often by using memorable leitmotifs (like the "Rules" of Fight Club, which vast swaths of the population can quote from memory).

    He doesn't have an MFA (that I know of), and is not part of the academic system. He self-identifies as "blue collar" (see his afterward to "Fight Club"), which is hardly usual for the booshie lit crowd.

    Plus, because of him, people have actually started real Fight Clubs! People beating the crap out of each other because of an author--how's that for cultural influence?