MISS WINSLOW, the executive secretary of the College Poetry Society of America, has compiled and edited an anthology for which new official duties have especially qualified her. She, if anybody, ought to know all the mute, inglorious young Miltons, male and female, who are strictly meditating the thankless Muse in college dormitories throughout the land. Her car is attuned to the squawking as well as the melody of the collegiate lyres on the campus. This book reveals both her knowledge and her sympathy. All the contributors are college men and women, but their interests, beyond that single tie of unity, are diverse. Some reveal their slavish adherence to a path which they have not enriched by plundering for old measures and pedantic allusions; others have stolen in order to bring to us something compounded, in the best classical manner of the past and the present as their poetic minds envision it, Hackneyed themes are abundant, much too abundant, one fears, for the future of collegiate verse in this country. Surely the University of Hard Knocks has gone farther than the two poetic stops of last century: love and nature? Practice among the undergraduate would seem to give a negative answer. But hold! Poets like Clark Mills, T. C. Wilson, Muriel Rukeyser, Alfred Hayes, and Kerker Quinn show signs of significant cerebration.
A quotation from Wilson's "Let Us Go No More to Museums" will demonstrate what one means by significant cerebration. Wilson will have nothing to do with his old master, cantankerous Ezra Pound:
"Let us go no more to museums and stand
Exalting memorials of some dynasty we have no part in....
This street we walk, these noisy tenements our sky,
I carry in the heart, the blood, and though I turn
Away and lift my eyes up unto the hllis, and though I
Seek a vision nearer the stars, I will not Praise a world I cannot claim."
Spread before the eyes of the young poets who wish to see is the vista of a world of struggle, of economic and political forces locked in a clench, battling without regard for the Marquis of Queensberry's rules. Miss Rukeyser, in her poem on the Scottsboro case, gives us her view; Hayes, who declares somewhat theatrically that he is a "permanent communist," gives us his in "For People Who Buy in Small Parcels," while James McQuail, who also strikes a pose as an "overpowering conservative," stands pat, with "Tea Time Tales" as his offering to the Tories. It is unkind for William Carlos Williams to criticize him as follows: "I'd advise him rather to take up arboriculture, unless he is so extraordinarily devoted to writing at its most difficult that even newspaper reporting doesn't attract him. Poetry is worse than cyanide of potassium to a young man unless he wants to die that way."
Dr. William could never give such a discouraging diagnosis of J. V. Healy's poem. Healy, for some strange reason, is not included in Miss Winsolow's book, though he falls in the categories set by her: he is a college man under twenty. Ive years of age who happens to write poetry.
Healy's poem is published in pamphlet form for the benefit of the New Workers' School. It is indicative of his mastery of rhythm and sense. Healy s a poet who thinks, not the frenzied Vates of popular imagination. His "Portrait" bears the spiritual and ethical features of a contemporary figure; the broker, like the poor, is always with us, even if the knight-errant is dead and buried and has not even left a successor in the G-men. Healy's five stanzas are a study in free will; the last may be quoted here:
"What should he drink now if all there is is drinking?
Where should he go now if there's no place to go?
What should he think now if all there is is thinking?
But has he thought of where his fathers came
His fathers' fathers? Or his brothers? No?
Not thought at all of where to place the blame?
He often says there is no blame at all
Yet he sits there and calls another's name
Although he knows no one can hear him call."