Whittemore, (Edward) Reed (II)
WHITTEMORE, (Edward) Reed (II)
Nationality: American. Born: New Haven, Connecticut, 11 September 1919. Education: Yale University, New Haven, A.B. 1941; Princeton University, New Jersey, 1945–46. Military Service: U.S. Army Air Force, 1941–45: Captain. Family: Married Helen Lundeen in 1952; two daughters and two sons. Career: Member of the department of English, 1947–62, chair of the department, 1962–64, and professor of English, 1962–67, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota; Bain-Swiggett Lecturer, Princeton University, 1968; professor of English, 1968–84, and since 1984 emeritus professor, University of Maryland, College Park. Editor, Furioso, various locations, 1939–53, Carleton Miscellany, Northfield, Minnesota, 1960–64, and Delos magazine, College Park, Maryland, 1988–92. Program associate, National Institute of Public Affairs, 1966–68. Literary editor, New Republic, Washington, D.C., 1969–73. Consultant in poetry, 1964–65, and interim consultant, 1984–85, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Poet Laureate for Maryland, 1985–88. Awards: Emily Clark Balch prize (Virginia Quarterly Review), 1962; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1968; American Academy award of Merit, 1971. Litt. D.: Carleton College, 1971. Address: 4526 Albion Road, College Park, Maryland 20740, U.S.A.
Heroes and Heroines. New York, Reynal, 1946.
An American Takes a Walk and Other Poems. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1956.
The Boy from Iowa: Poems and Essays. New York, Macmillan, 1962
Return, Alpheus: A Poem for the Literary Elders of Phi Beta Kappa. Williamsburg, Virginia, King and Queen Press, 1965.
Poems, New and Selected. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1967.
50 Poems 50. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1970.
The Mother's Breast and the Father's House. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
The Feel of Rock: Poems of Three Decades. Washington, D.C., Dryad Press, 1982.
The Past, the Future, the Present: Poems Selected and New. Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press, 1990.
Little Magazines. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1963.
The Fascination of the Abomination: Poems, Stories, and Essays. New York, Macmillan, 1963.
Ways of Misunderstanding Poetry. Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1965.
From Zero to the Absolute: Essays. New York, Crown, 1967.
William Carlos Williams: Poet from Jersey. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1975.
The Poet as Journalist: Life at the New Republic. Washington, D.C., New Republic, 1976.
Poets and Anthologists: A Look at the Current Poet-Packaging Process (lecture). Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1986.
Pure Lives: The Early Biographers. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
Whole Lives: Shapers of Modern Biography. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
Six Literary Lives. St. Louis, University of Missouri Press, 1993.
Editor, Browning. New York, Dell, 1960.*
Critical Study: "A Note on Reed Whittemore" by Roger Hecht, in Sewanee Review (Sewanee, Tennessee), 71, 1963.* * *
Reed Whittemore was among the first poets of his generation to make full use of the graceful and natural rhythms of William Carlos Williams's poetry. In his editorship of Furioso and the Carleton Miscellany, as well as in his career as teacher and biographer, Whittemore influenced the course of American language for more than forty years. For one poem in particular, the first and among the most powerful discussions of the idiocy and waywardness of the nuclear age, he deserves a permanent place in American poetry. That memorable lyric, "Lines Composed upon Reading an Announcement by Civil Defense Authorities Recommending That I Build a Bomb Shelter in My Backyard," concludes on this sensible note:
But I'll not, no not do it, not go back
And lie there in that dark under the weight
Of all that earth on that old door for my state.
I know too much to think now that if I creep
From the grown-up's house to the child's house I'll keep.
The Self-Made Man, Whittemore's longest poem, with echoes of Stevens's "The Comedian as the Letter C," extends the range of his ironic vision. It treats the Emersonian ideal with both mockery and tragic insight, as when the hero asks, "Where in my chatter, where in my banter / Where, where in this impious figure before you / Is God's wrath?" Among the New England worthies satirized in the poem is Mary Baker Eddy, in this memorable refrain from section 6:
Mary Baker of New Hampshire,
Mary Baker of New Hampshire.
I speak it twice; the rhythm stamps her
Simple Mary of New Hampshire.
Although capable of the clearest observation, as in "The Party," about children's seriousness at play, Whittemore later turned away from more complex emotions, and many of his poems after about 1960 can only be regarded with disappointment, as if there were some failure of nerve or energy. A terrible darkness broods among the light Horatian satires about cultural conferences and New York sophisticates, but inevitably the speaker refuses to face the deeper implications of his ironic view. Why were all the obvious opportunities ignored, one wonders, as in "Dead Walk," for example, or "The Storing of Soul"? Beside the fully realized humor of the early poems, one must set the frequently moving but inadequately rendered sadness of the later ones. Only occasionally is the sureness and grace evident again, as in the following from "The Feel of Rock":
My father went broke on a shaded street.
My mother drank there.
My brothers removed themselves; they were complete.
I kept my room and slicked down my hair …
I did not know until grown how alone,
In bed in a dark room,
One could be, one had been, little father clone.