On a roll here, with another female poet…

I was reminded recently by friend and poet Dean J. Baker of the poet Louise Bogan. (One of her poems was posted here on April 4, 2008.)

Bogan (1897-1970) grew up in mill towns in Maine. After a year at Boston University and an unhappy early marriage. she moved to New York City and connected with a powerful network of literary luminaries including William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Malcolm Cowley and Edmund Wilson.

But even with a strong literary community, Bogan followed her own north star, even when that isolated her from the comforts of a shared community. Here’s an excerpt from a brief bio of Bogan by Wendy Hirsch:

A year after modernism peaked in 1922 with T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Bogan published her first book, Body of This Death. In contrast to Eliot’s expansive, associative, free verse, Bogan’s lyrics were brief, limited in theme, and highly formal. The volume, which was well received although many reviewers found the poetry obscure, speaks eloquently about love and grief, Bogan’s twin themes. At this time she was seeing a psychiatrist to help her battle the depressions that relentlessly beset her and occasionally hospitalized her. Her life and her lyrics are intimately intertwined, although Bogan would be the last person to elucidate the connection. She was intensely private; for years many of her friends did not know she had a daughter.

After yet another unhappy marriage, Bogan achieved success as both a poet, prose writer and critic. In the face of her accomplishments, she still maintained a quietly self-effacing stance:

During this decade she began reviewing poetry for the New Yorker, a job she held for thirty-eight years. Many of these reviews, as well as others, are collected in A Poet’s Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art and Vocation. Her prose is direct, nonacademic, and sharp. The series of articles on her two favorite poets, William Butler Yeats and Rainer Maria Rilke, is particularly insightful. The poet W H. Auden thought she was the best critic of poetry in America.

Her occasional teaching stints, which began in the 1940s, were another, more direct way to influence the minds of young people. As the strain of writing poetry increased, Bogan turned more and more to criticism and education. In 1951 she was commissioned to write a short history of American poetry, eventually published as Achievement in American Poetry, in which she does not once mention herself…

Bogan remains a poet’s poet, yielding beauty to those whose ear, mind, and heart are open to the demands of her poetry. Her work is particularly important in light of her place in the company of other modernists. In a time of experimentation, of a general loosening of structures and subjects, she held the line for formal poetry and for the precise blend of emotion and intellect to enliven that poetry.

Here’s a poetry sampling:


I burned my life, that I may find
A passion wholly of the mind,
Thought divorced from eye and bone
Ecstasy come to breath alone.
I broke my life, to seek relief
From the flawed light of love and grief.

With mounting beat the utter fire
Charred existence and desire.
It died low, ceased its sudden thresh.
I had found unmysterious flesh–
Not the mind’s avid substance–still
Passionate beyond the will.