Thursday, May 19, 2011

The #10 Seeds

Are there giants left out there who aren't yet in the tournament?

Yes, a few-- including two or three of the most controversial American writers who ever lived. Check out this un-p.c. crowd:

A.) Amiri Baraka.

B.) James Gould Cozzens.

C.) Ezra Pound.

D.) Raymond Chandler.

Amiri Baraka-- once the Beat poet Leroi Jones (this guy's been around)-- is included in few anthologies or lists of the best living American poets, but for all his anger and skewed point of view you won't find a stronger poet anyplace. His words burn through the page.

James Gould Cozzens today is all but forgotten, but no American author better mastered the form of the novel, nor better understood and depicted the stoic mindset of those who founded and ran this nation. A few of Cozzens' opinions are outdated. For all his flaws, there remains an ethical underpinning-- often hypocritical-- to his work. This is a writer who's trying to understand the universe and his place within it. Cozzens knew as well as anyone has what makes this particular civilization work. His best novels are like well-built houses. Nothing within them is ever, ever overdone. They leave impact with the intelligent reader regardless.

The Last Adam, Men and Brethren, The Just and the Unjust, Guard of Honor-- his best novels are an impressive body of work perhaps not equaled in their entirety by any American. Cozzens also wrote a handful or so of excellent short stories. No one today reads them.

His most famous and controversial novel, By Love Possessed, which gained Cozzens a Time magazine cover in the 1950s, is not one of his best. It contains great strengths, but also more weaknesses than the rest of his novels put together, as if his ideas and prejudices so long held under tight rein at last overwhelmed him. James Gould Cozzens is the most adult American writer, in the sense that other American writers seem unserious, not in control of their material, even trivial by comparison to a work like the massive and complex Guard of Honor, an apex in the American novel which won the Pulitzer though its competition for the year was the much lauded The Naked and Dead by Norman Mailer. One time the judges got it correct.

Ezra Pound was the most influential American poet of all time, in his innovative work and also in the many journals and literary movements he initiated, and in the steady support, teaching, and encouragement he gave to other writers-- to giants like Eliot, Hemingway, and James Joyce. Few suffered more for his ideas than Pound-- misguided though he may have been. I have the image of him left in a small cage in the sweltering heat on an airport tarmac in Italy at the end of World War II, treated like an animal, and not like one of the greatest American writers who ever lived.

Raymond Chandler was the best writer among all mystery writers ever, anywhere.

NEXT UP: A seed of more contemporary figures-- which creates a new set of problems, as I'll soon explain.


  1. p.s. One can imagine Norman Mailer's frustration about rivals he once saw as beneath him or vanquished. Cozzens!? Leroi Jones! Pound!! Even Raymond Chandler of all people!!!
    While the hungry-for-attention Mailer awaits his turn.

  2. Love Raymond Chandler. Chandler didn't begin to publish until he was 45 years old. He is known for his movie novels and tv movie scripts. A popular movie script is Lady in the Lake and his most known character is Philip Marlowe, a wise talking gumshoe.