American Poetry

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American Poetry

Louis Simpson 1963

Author Biography

Poem Text

Poem Summary



Historical Context

Critical Overview



For Further Study

Published in 1963, “American Poetry” is a small poem about a big subject. As the first poem in part IV of Louis Simpson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning volume, At the End of the Open Road, “American Poetry” sets the tone for other poems in that section, many of which explicitly address American poet Walt Whitman and the tradition of American poetry, and implicitly speak to the character of the nation. The poem also illustrates Simpson’s own attitude toward the subject of American poetry.

Based on the title, a reader might expect the poem to be “about” American poetry or serve as a definition of it. But rather than providing a description of American poetry’s features, Simpson’s verse offers an illustration of its capacity. That explanation, however, hinders our understanding of the poem as much it as it helps us. This ambiguity exists because Simpson uses a series of images that are first metaphoric and then surrealist to describe his subject. Rather than imparting readers with a firm sense of what American poetry is, the poem evokes an idea of its possibilities and purposes.

One of the primary themes in “American Poetry” is the relationship between the character of the United States and the state of poetry within the country’s artistic confines. The poem presents an image of an art that is virtually all-encompassing, because it is practiced in a country with supposedly limitless possibilities—including the mundane and the spectacular, the realistic and the romantic. The poem teases its readers, because it does not provide a pat answer to the complex question, “What is American poetry?”

Author Biography

As an outsider who gradually become a part of the institutional and cultural fabric of the United States, Louis Simpson is well positioned to write about the American experience. The son of Aston Simpson, a lawyer, and Rosalind Marantz Simpson, a Russian-Jewish migrant and actress, Louis Aston Marantz Simpson was born in Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies, in 1923 and immigrated to the United States in 1940 to study literature at Columbia University. After a three-year stint in the military during World War II (during which he was twice awarded the Purple Heart), Simpson returned to Columbia, where he eventually took his Ph.D. He has worked as a book editor, reporter, and as professor of English at various universities, most notably the University of California at Berkeley and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, from which he retired in 1993. He has been married and divorced three times.

Simpson’s literary style has evolved over his career. Much of his early poetry, especially that found in The Arrivistes and Good News of Death and Other Poems, was written in conventionally ordered meter and rhyme, even though it addressed contemporary subject matter. Simpson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, At the End of the Open Road, represented a shift from this formula. In the collection, Simpson deviated somewhat from his tight forms and experimented more with imagery in order to shoulder the emotional weight of his poems. Whereas his earlier work was more realistic in its depiction of character and event, his middle period explored what critics came to call “deep imagery,” or “emotive imagination,” to give resonance to his words. More recently, Simpson has been associated with a group of writers who are attempting to bring narrative back to poetry (specifically the poets and writers associated with Story Line Press, which has published much of Simpson’s recent work). As a critic, Simpson has published a number of books on other poets, including Three on the Tower, a study of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams, and A Revolution in Taste: Studies of Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Lowell. He has also translated French poetry; Simpson’s Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology won the

Academy of American Poets’ 1998 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award.

In his criticism, prose, and poetry, Simpson has always insisted on the relationship between literature and lived life, eschewing the New Critical emphasis on locating meaning in the poem itself, separated from history or the author’s life. He denounces contemporary critical theory and champions a “common-sense” view of language. What Simpson values about poetry remains clear; his is a voice for those who, in his own words, “have written about ‘real events’ and hoped that their words, written with feeling, would seem true.”

Poem Text

American Poetry

Whatever it is, it must have
A stomach that can digest
Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems.
Like the shark, it contains a shoe.
It must swim for miles through the desert                5
Uttering cries that are almost human.

Poem Summary


The poem’s title is crucial, because it is the only place where Simpson actually names his subject. In a sense, the title almost merges with the poem’s first line to create a theme statement for the work: “American Poetry // whatever it is ....”

Lines 1-3

The first stanza tells us that the writer is not sure what American poetry is, perhaps because the subject is too large and complex for pat descriptions. Yet, in an attempt to give shape to the subject, the speaker announces that “it must have / A stomach that can digest / Rubber, coal, uranium, poems.” The pronoun “it” is American poetry, but rather than defining the whole “it,” the speaker focuses on just a part, the stomach, which is an internal organ of a living being. By describing the abstract concept of poetry in terms of a metaphoric image, the speaker suggests that poetry, too, is alive in some way and is capable of nourishing itself and keeping itself alive. The poet thus animates his subject by crafting it out of seemingly unpoetic elements.

Drawing upon the cliché “you are what you eat,” we can make assumptions about American poetry by analyzing the food that Simpson claims it must “digest.” Rubber and coal are raw materials associated with the manufacture of various goods; we can easily see how they are a part of the American industrial landscape, but what is their relationship to the idea of American poetry? Simpson is saying that, like the country in which it is made, American poetry has something raw, gritty, and real in it. We can also easily associate uranium, the radioactive element central to the making of atomic energy and weapons, with America when we consider that the United States was the first country to produce and use an atomic weapon. Uranium is less plentiful and more dangerous than coal and rubber and, hence, suggests the capacity of American poetry to process the exotic as well as the mundane. The last item on the list, “poems,” is the most curious, both because it is abstract and because it refers us back to the poem we are reading. By asserting that American poetry must be able to digest poems, Simpson is being self-reflexive. Self-reflexivity is a common feature of much modern and contemporary poetry that highlights the materiality of language itself. That is, it makes us aware that words refer to other words. In this sense, Simpson suggests that American poetry is, to a large extent, about American poetry as much as it is about themes such as possibility, democracy, national identity, and love.

Lines 4-6

The second stanza expands the description of American poetry. The image presented, however,

Media Adaptations

  • The Academy of American Poets sponsors a web site on Louis Simpson’s poetry and prose, located at
  • Watershed Tapes has put out a cassette of Simpson reading his poems titled Louis Simpson: Physical Universe.
  • In 1983, New Letters on the Air recorded and published a cassette of Simpson reading his poems on public radio.

is associative—it provides no clear comparison for readers to rationally comprehend. Because it is a surrealist image, its logic is dream-like and intuitive. Surrealist imagery often juxtaposes incongruous elements and, thus, is not meant to be made sense of in conventional ways. Therefore, we need not struggle to fathom how American poetry and a shark both contain a shoe, or how poetry must “swim for miles through the desert.” Rather, we should look at the whole poem and attempt to discern our own emotional and intellectual responses to it. These will differ according to our own experience with reading other poems, and, of course, with our own understanding of what it means to be American. Simpson’s statements about American poetry, however, suggest that the efforts of the shark to do the impossible (i.e., swim through the desert) reflect the struggles of American poetry to find an appreciative audience.


Art and Experience

The first stanza of this poem prescribes the nature of American poetry, implying that it must be all things to all people. Simpson’s list of the requisite ingredients for such a poetry points to his own awareness of one tradition of American poetry—that linked to Walt Whitman. Whitman advocated a people’s poetry that would encompass

Topics for Further Study

  • For one week, keep a journal, noting all of the times when you think about your nationality—be it American or any other. Pay particular attention to the circumstances when this happened: Were you reading? Were you in conversation? Were you watching television? Also note how you felt about being aware of your national identity. Did it make you proud? Angry? Embarrassed? Based on your observations, write an essay detailing what your nationality means to you.
  • First, choose a topic, for example, “love” or “sorrow.” Then find an appropriate greeting card, a set of song lyrics, and a contemporary poem that all address this emotion. Write an essay exploring the similarities and differences among these types of writing.
  • Write on the topic of being an American, but try not to use any abstract words. When you are finished, circle the nouns. Compose a short composition on how these words, most of which will be images, illustrate your feelings or beliefs about being an American.

the experience of all Americans, not just those who regularly read poetry or are familiar with the literary arts. “A stomach that can digest / Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems” is a stomach that can process the realistic (rubber and coal) and the dangerous (uranium) as well as the romantic (moons); it can contend with both the prosaic and the poetic. But by indicating his awareness of this strain of American poetry, Simpson is not necessarily approving of it. The tone of the second stanza implies just the opposite. Through the use of a surrealist image, the speaker skirts the issue of condemning, or at least questioning, the democratic purpose and reception of poetry in the United States. By comparing American poetry to a shark, the speaker suggests its predatory nature, as well as its capacity to contain “junk” like “a shoe.” The 1960s saw a profusion of poetry in America, with small presses and literary magazines springing up everywhere, even outside of academia. Both good and bad poetry found a market, but, in general, it seemed as if American society’s indifference to the genre increased. The final image of “American Poetry” suggests an art that must endure much (“swim[ming] for miles through the desert”) for little reward. Even the sounds it makes are insufficient.

Language and Meaning

“American Poetry” addresses the issue of what happens to something once it is named. Questions such as “What is art?” seem to engender responses that close rather than open doors. So, instead of providing a descriptive response to the question “What is American poetry?” Simpson chooses to answer it obliquely. He claims not know what it is, but insists that “Whatever it is, it must have” the features he names. By not furnishing a literal answer for this matter of identity, Simpson avoids being held to one definition or another. For a poet, this is a good tactic; historically, one of the poet’s tasks has been to create labels for unnamed things and ideas by means of figurative language. Yet, because American poetry is such a huge subject, any poem that attempted to explain it would be doomed to fail. Simpson’s strategy of using a surrealist image to prescribe features of American poetry allows him to create a larger, and more provocative, lens through which we might see the subject. This increases and enriches the possible meanings of American poetry.

The irony in Simpson’s poem is that it uses a distinctly un-American form. The images in “American Poetry” owe more to French symbolism and surrealism than any homespun American way of writing (if such a thing exists). But that very irony also begs the question, “What is American?” Simpson seems aware of this paradox and of the fact that the United States and its national identity are amalgams of other countries and national identities. Perhaps the best way of thinking about things American, Simpson seems to suggest, is to reflect upon about their inherently diverse and ambiguous nature.


“American Poetry” consists of two free-verse tercets, or stanzas of three lines that usually rhyme. The first tercet contains a metaphor that prescriptively compares American poetry to a stomach. Using a “deep image,” the second stanza metaphorically

Compare & Contrast

  • 1945: Overseers of the Manhattan Project, a U.S. military research operation, secretly amass control of uranium deposits necessary to manufacture atom bombs. In July, the first nuclear weapon is exploded at the Trinity test site in New Mexico, and in August, the United States drops atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders shortly afterward.
    1949: The Soviet Union acquires atomic weapons.
    1952: Britain acquires atomic weapons.
    1960: France acquires atomic weapons.
    1964: The People’s Republic of China acquires atomic weapons.
    1968: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is signed by the United States, the U.S.S.R., and Britain. This treaty sets up strict requirements for non-nuclear nations wishing to build nuclear energy industries.
    1974: India acquires atomic weapons.
    1987: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, intended to eliminate all U.S. and Soviet land-based nuclear missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,415 miles, is signed.
    1993: The United States and Russia agree on a final START treaty that will reduce both sides’ strategic arsenals by two-thirds within a decade.
  • 1959: A 2,664-pound white shark is caught by rod off the coast of Australia.
    1960: R. C. Webster lands a 410-pound blue shark in the waters near Rockport, Massachusetts.
    1970: J. B. Penwarden catches a Mako shark weighing 1,061 pounds at Mayor Island, New Zealand.
    Today: Sharks remain both an object of fear and a delicacy eaten by many around the world.
  • 1963: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
    1964: The Warren Commission releases the report of their investigation of the death of President John F. Kennedy, concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the shooting.
  • Today: More than seventy percent of Americans think that the Warren Commission was covering up some sort of conspiracy.

describes American poetry in relation to a shark. Deep imagery is rooted in Surrealism, an aesthetic theory born in the 1920s that attempts to transcend conventional notions of reality by evoking responses from the unconscious. One strategy surrealists use is to juxtapose disparate objects in the same space in order to highlight a connection between them. That connection, however, is often intuitive and associative; thus, it is not necessarily accessible to all readers. The “deep image”—of which Robert Bly and James Wright, as well as Louis Simpson, were practitioners—is also meant to describe a reality beyond that which we see, by relying on association and intuition to evoke meaning and emotion. The term “deep image” was coined by poet-critics Jerome Rothenberg and Robert Kelly to name the type of image that could fuse the experience of the poet’s inner self and his outer world. Because such images are largely symbolic, the speaker’s tone toward his subject remains somewhat ambiguous, though we can infer from Simpson’s comparisons that he is critical of American poetry.

Historical Context

Louis Simpson was particularly influenced by a certain type of poetry being produced in the United States during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Poets such as Robert Bly, James Wright, James Dickey, and William Stafford—sometimes labeled neo-surrealists or “deep image” poets—began writing in a spare, elliptical, almost journalistic style, which had a dream-like quality. Many of these poets, including Simpson, published regularly in Robert Bly’s magazines, the Fifties and the Sixties. Themselves influenced by South-American writers such as Pablo Neruda and Cesar Vallejo, as well as French writers such as Robert Desnos and André Breton, the deep-image poets were, in large part, responding to what they saw as the increasing objectivity in American poetry—especially in the work of Projectivist poet Charles Olson and his followers. Whereas Projectivism emphasized technique in poetry and considered humans as being related to an objective universe, the deep-image writers emphasized content and promoted a subjective vision of humanity in relation to the world. Images, specifically images originating in the unconscious, were the central ingredients in their poetry (as opposed to the syllable and the line, which were the main components of Projectivist verse). The purpose of these images was to unite the internal world of the unconscious with the external world of things. “Unite” is the key word here, for in advocating a personal, subjective vision of experience, deep-image writers strove to find a way to bring together the various, often conflicting, worlds that we inhabit. Jerome Rothenberg, Bly, and Robert Kelly were leading theoreticians of this new direction in poetry.

The U.S. social environment of the late 1950s and early 1960s helped foster such an attitude toward poetry and human consciousness. Corporate culture was on the rise, and Americans were becoming increasingly materialistic, buying appliances, cars, and houses in record numbers. From 1954 to 1960, installment credit zoomed from $4 billion to $43 billion, and advertising expenditures eclipsed the $10 billion mark. Some Americans were becoming complacent, yet, at the same time, they more were disconnected from their emotional lives. A number of literary movements, including the Beats and the Deep Imagists, responded to the phenomenon of the individual’s growing alienation. But whereas Beats such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg met with popular success from the counterculture, poets such as Bly and Simpson gained the approval of the literary establishment. Simpson’s collection of poems titled At the End of the Open Road, which addressed his contradictory ideas about American identity, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964; and Robert Bly, who fused densely imagistic poetry with political protest, won the National Book Award in 1968 for The Light Around the Body.

Critical Overview

“American Poetry” has been reprinted in many anthologies of American and modern poetry. This is due as much to the subject of the poem as it is to the poem’s literary quality. Anthologists often look for representative poems, and “American Poetry,” by its very title, suggests that it will be descriptive of American poetry. Critics have focused on how “American Poetry” attempts to explore the democratic nature of American poetry. In an article for Today, R. R. Cuscaden points out that “Today poetry must be able to digest the indigestible: ‘rubber’ (jammed freeways, discarded tires in empty lots), ‘coal’ (world dominated by business, industrial waste), ‘moons’ (new explorations which break down old myths and open new worlds), and ‘poems’ (an ironic comment on the reams and reams of bad poetry being written today).” Ronald Moran views the poem as an ultimately heroic attempt to create beauty for an increasingly dwindling and apathetic audience. In his Four Poets and the Emotive Imagination, Moran also focuses on the figurative language of the poem, claiming that “American Poetry” “remind[s] us of the great importance Simpson himself places on the value of metaphor, which, in turn, accounts for the impossibility of reading the poem for any logically sound and literal meaning.” Nevertheless, Moran notes, “The suggested meanings are richly complex, and the poem remains a valuable nonstatement.” Richard Ellman and Robert O’Clair, editors of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, observe that the poem exists somewhere between the rational and the surreal, and that it is capable of “reveal[ing] the drama and narrative of the subconscious.” In an article for Tar River Poetry, David Wojahn reads that narrative as an argument with the self, claiming that “Simpson uses Surrealism as a kind of public, didactic shorthand as the most expedient way of articulating his conflicting attitudes towards his adopted country and his own aesthetic presumptions.” Douglass Dunn locates the poem’s importance in history, writing in Times Literary Supplement that it illustrates the kind of “deep image” poetry being written in the 1950s and 1960s. In an article for Yale Review, however, Thom Gunn claims that Simpson’s attempt to define “Americanness” is “dated,” noting that “‘American Poetry” looks almost as if it were written without knowledge of [William Carlos] Williams or Hart Crane.”


Chris Semansky

Chris Semansky’s most recent collection of poems, Blindsided, has been published by 26 Books of Portland, Oregon. In the following essay, Semansky argues that “American Poetry” reflects not only Simpson’s attitudes toward the diminished expectations for poetry in America, but also his attitudes toward Walt Whitman’s vision for America.

Louis Simpson’s poem “American Poetry” works because it manages to embody the contradiction inherent in the speaker’s attitude toward the subject. The subject of American poetry, however, is inextricably linked to the poet Walt Whitman, one of the chief influences on modern American poetry. To understand the speaker’s attitude toward the subject, then, is to understand his attitude toward Whitman.

The speaker immediately tells us that he does not know what American poetry is, but is only sure about what it “must” contain. Such an approach is similar to the parlor game in which you have to describe a thing without naming it, and the audience has to guess what it is. By beginning the poem this way, like a riddle, the speaker positions himself both as an ingenue of sorts and as an experienced person who most likely knows more than he is letting on. This stance is similar to the one that Whitman sometimes takes in Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s speaker is expansive and knowing, yet, at the same time, vulnerable and self-effacing. Like Whitman, Simpson sets himself up as a spokesperson for poetry and for Americanness. But unlike Whitman, who attempted to incorporate every possible American experience into his poetry, Simpson employs symbolic metaphors, letting individual words represent entire realms of human experience: “rubber” and “coal” for the gritty street realism of everyday life, “moons” for romance, and so forth. As the first offering in a section of At the End of the Open Road that contains poems about Whitman’s poetic legacy, “American Poetry” stands as an oblique introduction to Simpson’s own attitude toward the poet—an attitude that Simpson presented more plainly in his 1972 autobiography, North of Jamaica:

What Do I Read Next?

  • Simpson’s iconoclastic views on poetry, both his own and others, can be read in his collection of essays and notes, Ships Going into the Blue, which was published in 1994 by the University of Michigan Press.
  • In 1991, Story Line Press issued Poetry After Modernism, an anthology of critical essays on narrative poetry. This collection details the many strains of contemporary poetry, including the “New Narrative,” of which Simpson is named a major voice.
  • Simpson’s memoir, titled The King My Father’s Wreck, was published in 1995 by Story Line Press. In a series of essays, the poet recounts rather trivial episodes about his past, imbuing them with a sense of importance. The stories in this volume give the reader a good indication of what Simpson thinks his public image is, or should be.
  • Jerome Klinkowitz’s The American 1960s: Imaginative Acts in a Decade of Change makes intriguing connections between the political life of the country and the imaginative lives of artists during the 1960s.

I found Whitman’s poetry almost intolerable; celebrating progress and industry as ends in themselves was understandable in 1879, for at that time material expansion was also a spiritual experience, but in the twentieth century the message seemed out of date. The mountains had been crossed, the land had been gobbled up, and industry was turning out more goods than people could consume. Also, the democracy Whitman celebrated, the instinctive rightness of the common man, was very much in doubt. Now we were governed by the rich, and the masses were hopelessly committed to an economy based on war. It was a curious thing that a man could write great poetry and still be mistaken in his ideas.

But why would Simpson criticize someone who wrote almost a century earlier for the conditions he encountered in the early 1960s? Perhaps because he, having immigrated to the United States

“‘American Poetry’ embodies a sense of exhaustion even as it attempts to transcend it.”

in 1940, initially expected so much from America. Those hopes were blunted a great deal after his experience in World War II. Richard Howard, who attended Columbia University at the same time as Simpson, describes the war’s effect on Simpson, saying that after he returned, “Simpson was back in the arena of his own true hostilities, the national conflict having given him, like Yeats’ spirits, metaphors for poetry.” These metaphors, no doubt like Simpson’s own war experiences, increasingly took on surrealist properties. When the speaker of “American Poetry” says that American poetry must be able to digest uranium, he is implicitly referring to its ability to process, or make poetry from, the unthinkable—the subject of nuclear war.

The metaphoric image of the second stanza, though an example of the “deep image” that Simpson and others were experimenting with at the time, also illustrates the poet’s conflicted attitude toward his subject. On the one hand, the image suggests innovation and endurance. The shark, like American poetry, has a hearty stomach and can nourish itself on just about anything, including discarded junk, such as a shoe. This characterization echoes the one in the poem’s first stanza, providing another way of thinking about American poetry’s omnivorous nature—its can-do attitude of making the best out of adversity. On the other hand, the image, especially as described in the poem’s last two lines, suggests exhaustion and the possibility that this American “can-do-ism” is coming to an end. In an article for Today, R. R. Cuscaden said of these lines: “For Simpson today’s poetry must do the impossible—‘Swim for miles through the desert’—and make a sound that is ‘almost human.’ In other words, the poetry must somehow reach and subsequently make sense to a country which has little time and less patience for it.” Commenting on the place of poetry in American life, Simpson wrote that “Poetry is of no importance in the United States. The people in the town where I live, who talk to me about the movies or television shows they have seen, do not read my poems. It would not occur to them to buy one of my books.” Part of America’s apathy toward poetry, Simpson suggests, lies in its inability to distinguish between good and bad writing; instead people “democratize” all writing. In The Character of the Poet, Simpson faults Whitman’s vision of the common man, saying that “Optimism about the masses seems out of place in our century. The masses elect mass-murderers—if we survive it will not be due to the good nature of the common man. Whitman’s view of mankind is of no use at all—it doesn’t help when it comes to understanding one another and building a community.”

“American Poetry” embodies a sense of exhaustion even as it attempts to transcend it. In writing a definitional poem about the nature and purpose of American poetry by using what is, in essence, a French form (i.e., Surrealism), Simpson seems to be pronouncing that the distinctly American type of poetry that Whitman popularized has run its course. What American poetry needs, he suggests, is a way to revitalize and reinvent itself to accommodate the changes—the unfulfilled promises, the impoverishment of the national soul—in the country since Whitman’s time. By drawing on surrealist imagery, Simpson is able to express the contradictions that inhabit the crafting and the reception of poetry in America in the mid-to late-twentieth century. As a response to much of the academic verse being written in America during the 1940s and 1950s, neo-surrealist or deep-image poetry focused more on content than technique—more on the image than the line or the syllable. In the introduction to his poems in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Simpson discloses this about Surrealism and his own poetry:

The old-fashioned verse of epithets and opinions—writing of the will rather than the imagination—which is still practiced by those who think of themselves as avant-garde—is dead. And objective verse, which is only photography, is boring. Those who still write in these ways are at the mercy of their surroundings; they are depressed, and create nothing. Only in Surrealism, creating images and therefore realities, is there any joy. But Surrealist poets have often failed to see that mere images, however new, are not enough. Their images ... remain motionless. The Surrealist poet—rejecting on the one hand the clichés of the rational mind, and on the other, a mere projection of irrational images—will reveal the drama and narrative of the subconscious.

It is significant that Simpson, Robert Bly, James Wright, and others chose to adopt models of the image based largely on the French symbolists and surrealists of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, as well as on Latin-American surrealists, such as César Vallejo and Pablo Neruda, of the mid-twentieth century. These poets wrote during periods of political upheaval and national and personal urgency—at times when their very lives were at stake. (Compare this to the 1950s and early 1960s in the United States: a time of affluence and growing complacency.) In their poetry, Simpson, Bly, Wright, et al. saw a model for how to join the personal, the political, and the poetical—in other words, they discovered a way of making American poetry relevant once again. “American Poetry” speaks to the condition of its subject in the early 1960s, but in the work’s very form, it also points to the possibilities associated with U.S. verse. This is what is significant about Simpson’s poem; it looks—with open eyes—at its subject without blinking, and it sees more than it can know.

Source: Chris Semansky, in an essay for Poetry for Students, Gale Group, 2000.


Cuscaden, R. R., “In the Shark’s Belly,” Today, Vol. 21, January 1966, p. 14.

Dunn Douglass, “Review of Caviare at the Funeral,” Times Literary Supplement, June 5, 1981, p. 645.

Ellman, Richard, and Robert O’Clair, eds., The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 2nd edition, New York: Norton, 1983.

Gunn, Thom, “Review of At the End of the Open Road,” Yale Review, No. 53, March 1964, pp. 457-58.

Horowitz, David A., Peter N. Carroll, and David D. Lee, eds., On the Edge: A New History of 20th-century America, Los Angeles: West Publishing Co., 1990.

Howard, Richard, Alone with America, New York: Atheneum, 1961, pp. 451-70.

Hungerford, Edward, ed., Poets in Progress: Critical Prefaces to Thirteen Modern American Poets, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1967.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, The American 1960s: Imaginative Acts in a Decade of Change, Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1980.

Lazer, Hank, ed., On Louis Simpson: Depths beyond Happiness, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1988.

Lensing, George S., and Ronald Moran, Four Poets and the Emotive Imagination, Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1976.

McDowell, Robert, ed., Poetry After Modernism, Brownsville, OR: Story Line Press, 1991.

Miller, James E., Jr., A Critical Guide to Leaves of Grass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Moran, Ronald, Louis Simpson, Boston: Twayne, 1972.

Rosenthal, M. L., The New Poets: American & British Poetry Since World War II, New York: Oxford, 1967, pp. 323-24.

Simpson, Louis, North of Jamaica, New York: Harper, 1972.

Simpson, Louis, Ships Going into the Blue: Essays and Notes on Poetry, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Stitt, Peter, The World’s Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1985.

Wojahn, David, “On Louis Simpson,” Tar River Poetry, Vol. 24, No. 1, fall 1984, pp. 41-51.

For Further Study

Lensing, George S., and Ronald Moran, Four Poets and the Emotive Imagination: Robert Bly, James Wright, Louis Simpson, and William Stafford, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976.

These authors define the term “emotive imagination” and attempt to provide an explanation of this poetic tradition. They examine Simpson’s career historically and in relation to three other American poets of the emotive imagination: Robert Bly, James Wright, and William Stafford.

Simpson, Louis, The Character of the Poet, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1986.

Simpson’s collection of short and occasional pieces provide a glimpse into his motivations for writing and his attitudes toward other modern and contemporary poets.

Stepanchev, Stephen, American Poetry Since 1945, New York: Harper, 1965.

Stepanchev’s literary history is a highly readable account of the aesthetic and ideological movements in American poetry after World War II.

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