“Siren voices lost at dawn”: Nancy Cunard, T.S. Eliot, and the Place of the Artist

When Nancy Cunard published her long poem Parallax through the Hogarth Press in 1925, several reviewers noted similarities between it and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, released three years prior. According to the pages of The Nation: “Miss Cunard’s poem would never have been conceived without the example of Mr. Eliot. But even when this is recognized, Miss Cunard’s poem shows the individuality of its author.” Outlook chimed in with a similar sentiment: “T.S. Eliot is the first who heard the new music in its full harmony. Miss Cunard has caught strains of it too. She is not piping over again Mr. Eliot’s tune [but] adding her own motifs and orchestration to the general theme.” Over time, some critics began to argue that the poem’s piping was, in fact, a little too derivative. F.R. Leavis, five years after the poem’s initial publication, dismissed Parallax as a “simple imitation” of The Waste Land. Still, most critics have maintained that the poem holds a complicated relation with Eliot. What scholars have yet to do is pin down the precise nature of her response—what, exactly, she said.

Sounding Lowell: Louise Glück and Derek Walcott

Little would seem to unite Louise Glück and Derek Walcott, for their styles diverge in most respects. Glück is remarkable for her restraint, her suggestive elisions, her interest in the minutiae of parable; Walcott for his lushness of description, his breadth of scope and reference, his clear love of epic. But both poets owe much to Robert Lowell, even if they took up different aspects of his writing for their own purposes. Their common debt hints at the extent of Lowell’s influence on English poetry. It also provides a fitting testament to his flexibility as a model and companion.

Mary McCarthy and Public Language

Mary McCarthy has often been called a “contrarian.” Joseph Epstein referred to her as such in a retrospective essay for Commentary in May 1993, and Mark Greif did the same more recently in his book, The Age of the Crisis of Man (2007). McCarthy appeared to play up that reputation herself when she titled her first essay collection On the Contrary: Articles of Belief, 1947-1961. Yet the term is misleading. McCarthy never takes opposing views as a matter of course, though the conclusions she reaches are often a surprise. Her arguments have the force of commitment; she never aims merely to provoke. The key word in her book title actually comes after the colon. Not “faith,” which can easily be blind, but “belief,” which admits to the possibility of being proved wrong.