Party honors Hemingway as poet
Poetry in Prose’
John Barr, president, Poetry Foundation, Hemingway Museum, 200 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
6 p.m. July 21
Tickets are $25
Call (708) 524-5383 or visit www.ehfop.org
Updated: July 23, 2012 9:45AM
Never knew that Ernest Hemingway tried his hand at poetry?
Don’t feel bad. Hemingway apparently didn’t think much himself of the 50 or so poems he wrote during his life, mainly for family and friends and only a handful were published.
In a sense, though, the Nobel Prize-winning author remained a poet throughout his career, according to Poetry Foundation president John Barr, who will speak on “Hemingway’s Poetry in Prose” during a celebration of his birthday July 21 at the Hemingway Museum in Oak Park. The event includes live music, appetizers and cocktails, including absinthe tastings, in honor of Hemingway’s life in Paris between the world was.
“Hemingway believed his great challenge as a writer was to write poetry into prose,” said Barr, who noted that the author’s only published poems, written during his youth in Oak Park, appeared in the January 1925 edition of Poetry magazine, which still has the originals in its library. (Coincidentally, Poetry magazine is itself celebrating a big birthday, having been launched 100 years ago by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago.)
“Like many young writers, he experimented early on, while looking for a personal form of expression. He tried poetry, but he found that what he was trying to do as writer he could do best in prose.”
Hemingway made that decision in Paris in the 1920s, where he lived after his experiences in World War I and was influenced by other expatriate writers, such as Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who were involved in the literary Modernism movement. His poems, in fact, were published when Hemingway came to the attention of Modernist poet Ezra Pound, who was serving as a talent scout, of sorts, for Poetry magazine.
Pound was particularly influential, Barr said, because Hemingway was attracted to his Principle of Concision, which stated that writers should strip their language of anything “not in support of the thing itself.”
“You can track the development of Hemingway’s famous prose style, his brevity and understatement in particular, developed out of the principles that Modernist writers such as Pound were advocating at the time,” he explained. “Modernism helped define Hemingway as a writer and he returned the favor, as a result of his phenomenal success, by helping to define Modernism.”
Hemingway used the principles of Modernism to channel his poetic impulses into prose, he added, which gave particular power to his fiction.
““Hemingway’s prose can be considered good free verse because of its economy and its sensitivity to sound and rhythm,” Barr said. “If you take a good free-verse poem by, say Wallace Stevens, and compare it to a paragraph of Hemingway’s prose, you will find a lot of the same qualities.
“One of the things I really admire about him is the way he took those writing skills he cultivated and created a body of work that really captured the new reality of his century.”