Of the tread of the dark wood mold and turfy rye,
Rich smell of horse in his nostril, wind in his eye,
– from In Air, John Crowe Ransom
Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom
edited by Ben Mazer
John Crowe Ransom (1888-1974), poet, critic, and teacher was born in Pulaski, Tennessee. He entered Vanderbilt University at the age of fifteen, received his undergraduate degree in 1909, won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and crowned his academic career at Kenyon College where he founded and edited the Kenyon Review. His criticism – The New Criticism – was revered and feared. His poems are at once ancient and modern while never modernist (T.S. Eliot: “I have probably a higher opinion of your verse than you have of mine”). They won high esteem and deep delight for their fineness, their humor, their individuality of manner and movement, and their unforced poignancy. Poems About God (1919), Chills and Fever (1924), and Two Gentlemen in Bonds (1927) led in due course to his Selected Poems (1947), of which the revised reissue was to win the National Book Award in Poetry in 1964.
Robert Graves: “The sort of poetry which, because it is too good, has to be brushed aside as a literary novelty”.
Howard Nemerov: “His verse is in the best sense ‘private’, the judgment upon the world of one man who could not, properly speaking, be imitated”.
Robert Lowell: “so many lyrics that one wants to read over and over”.
So many? But there exists a greater yield than was preserved by Ransom himself. For the poet, in a fierce act of purgation, force-slimmed his poems to 68 pages. Selected with a vengeance. Presented here now is the first-ever complete edition of the poems of John Crowe Ransom, restoring to the world – in the name not of mercy but of justice – a great many poems that he himself had once (and quite rightly) judged perfectly worthy of publication, poems that, joining now his select poems, will enjoy a renaissance.
Ben Mazer was born in New York City in 1964, and now lives in Boston, Massachusetts. His poems have been widely published in international literary periodicals, including Verse, Stand, Leviathan Quarterly, Harvard Magazine, Jacket Magazine, Fulcrum, Pequod, The Boston Phoenix, Thumbscrew and Agenda. He is a contributing editor to Fulcrum: an annual of poetry and aesthetics. His first collection of poems, White Cities, was published by Barbara Matteau Editions in 1995. His most recent collections of poems are Poems (The Pen & Anvil Press) and January 2008 (Dark Sky Books), both published in April 2010. His edition of Ransom’s poems was effected at the Editorial Institute, Boston University.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery has said of Mazer’s work: “Like fragments of old photographs happened on in a drawer, these poems tap enigmatic bits of the past that suddenly come to life again. To read him is to follow him along a dreamlike corridor where everything is beautiful and nothing is as it seems.”
The Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom will be published in cooperation with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. / Knopf Doubleday Publishing and by CO-OPPRODUCTION.