Read a handful of Crapsey's elegantly distilled cinquins that felt lost among the endless pages of a large anthology and was immediately impressed andRead a handful of Crapsey's elegantly distilled cinquins that felt lost among the endless pages of a large anthology and was immediately impressed and enamored—here was a poet who seemed to embody all of the qualities of Imagism without having any known knowledge or contact with H.D., Pound, Lowell, Aldington and others would make it one of the most recognizable poetic advances in 20th century poetry.
Turns out there are just over a two dozen cinquains in existence, for unfortunately Crapsey died of tuberculosis 1914 at the horrifyingly young age of 36. Her reputation rests solely on the clipped 5 line cinquain that she developed, which many have mistakenly assumed are based on the haiku, tanka and other forms found in traditional Japanese poetry, but are actually rooted in Crapsey's extensive work on English language prosody, particularly Keats. But the best of the cinquains still feel radically, innovatively modernist, which is why Crapsey has been characterized as an "unintentional Imagist," which might or might not do her unique poetic innovations justice.
My two personal favorites:
"Niagra Seen on a night in November"
How frail Above the bulk Of crashing water hangs, Autumnal, evanescent, wan, the Moon.
Listen.. With faint dry sound, Like steps of passing ghosts, The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees And fall.
Susan Sutton Smith has brought together all of the available material related to Crapsey, and tellingly, it all fits into a modest-sized volume. I only lightly perused the rest of the poetry, which is of the traditional late-Romantic sort that still lingered around after the turn of the century, but several excerpts I've read are lovely, so I do plan to return someday to give it a more thorough read. Smith's well-researched biography and critical assessments are also insightful and accessible.
A wonderful find, I just wish there was more. ...more
A diverting, nicely observed little read. Levy takes on this quality that sometimes comes off as a bit faux-naïf, as I got the impression that her obsA diverting, nicely observed little read. Levy takes on this quality that sometimes comes off as a bit faux-naïf, as I got the impression that her observations cover, just barely, a layer of subtle wit and more than a bit of satire (take the deliciously veiled b*tch-slap of a closing line: "I never get the chance to read [Stein] my story and left Paris eventually enriched only by the knowledge that Gertrude Stein was now great in France"). Throughout Portraits she constantly downplays her intelligence and abilities to comprehend and appreciate modernist art--a role it is implied the extended Stein family kept her in--but the art collection she amassed and several texts she wrote belie a bit more to the situation than she lets on here.
The title is a bit misleading, as most of the incidents involves those who fall into the "their circle" part of the title--Alice B. Toklas (whose trip to Europe was funded by Levy), Swedish sculptor David Edstrom, and most particularly Sarah Stein, Gertrude's formidable sister-in-law and staunch Matisse supporter, make the most frequent appearances. There's also Levy's take on the rowdy Montmartre dinner that Stein made famous in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and even an odd little chapter that seems to center around an attempted lesbian pickup from which Levy demurs (another case of feigned naiveté?).
Nothing is exactly revelatory, but that's just it--as the short introduction states, for years this previously unpublished manuscript has been mined endlessly by scholars and historians for firsthand information on this storied period. As such, it's nice that Levy has been given the opportunity to finally speak for herself. ...more