Logan, William 1950-
Logan, William 1950-
Born November 16, 1950, in Boston, MA; son of William Donald, Jr. (an executive) and Nancy Belle (a realtor) Logan; companion of Debora Greger (a poet); children: Julia. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1972; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1975.
Home—Gainesville, FL. Office—Department of English, Turlington Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611. E-mail—[email protected]
University of Florida, Gainesville, director of creative writing program, 1983-2000, assistant professor, 1983-87, associate professor, 1987-91, professor of English, 1991—, alumni/ae professor of English, 1996-99; poet and poetry critic.
Ingram Merrill Foundation fellow, 1977 and 1988; Amy Lowell traveling poetry scholar, 1980; fellow of National Endowment for the Arts, 1983 and 1994; citation for excellence in reviewing, National Book Critics Circle, 1988; Peter I.B. Lavan Younger Poets Award, Academy of American Poets, 2000; National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism, finalist, 2000, for Reputations of the Tongue: On Poets and Poetry, winner, 2006, for The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin; Elizabeth Matchett Stover Memorial Award, Southwest Review, 2003; Poetry, J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize, 2003, and Ran- dall Jarrell Award in Criticism, Poetry Foundation Pegasus Awards, 2005; Allen Tate Prize, Sewanee Review, 2004; Corrington Medal for Literary Excellence and Attaway fellow, Centenary College, 2004.
Dream of Dying, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1980.
Sad-faced Men, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1982.
Difficulty, Salamander (London, England), 1984, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1985.
Moorhen, Abattoir (Omaha, NE), 1984.
Sullen Weedy Lakes, David Godine (Boston, MA), 1988.
Vain Empires, Penguin (New York, NY), 1998.
Night Battle, Penguin (New York, NY), 1999.
Macbeth in Venice, Penguin (New York, NY), 2003.
The Whispering Gallery, Penguin (New York, NY), 2005.
(Editor with Dana Gioia) Certain Solitudes: On the Poetry of Donald Justice, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1997.
Reputations of the Tongue: On Poets and Poetry, University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 1999.
Poetry and the Age, expanded edition, University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 2000.
Desperate Measures, University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 2002.
The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of reviews to periodicals, including New York Times Book Review, New Criterion, and Times Literary Supplement.
The poetry of William Logan is distinguished by a formal structure that often uses traditional rhyme and meter schemes as it explores concepts of truth and art as well as various ironies of the human condition. In his collections Sad-faced Men, Difficulty, and Sullen Weedy Lakes, Logan develops these themes with the use of abstract language and often bleak images drawn from the inanimate natural world. This combination of form and content create what many reviewers considered to be dispassionate landscapes. G.E. Murray, in a review for Chicago Tribune Books, characterized Logan's work as "a poetry of terse and tense structures of language attempting to comprehend complex physical and emotional interweavings of events, place and person" and also called attention to the author's practice of "keeping his subjects at arm's length" in order to create a distant tone. Simon Rae, in a review of Difficulty in the Times Literary Supplement, found that in his approach to metaphysical subjects "Logan in fact has developed a rather chilling and impersonal poetry with scant tolerance for the human," concluding that the book overall was "scarcely populated."
While Logan uses few human subjects in his poetry, he frequently employs images from nature, particularly emphasizing landscape. Poems such as "Cartography" and "From a Far Cry, a Return to the City" in Difficulty employ geographic, meteorological, and astronomical images while the title poem uses plants and other organic metaphors in its reflections on a love affair. Historical references also figure prominently in Logan's writing. "The Rivers of England" in Sullen Weedy Lakes, for example, uses images of England during the late eighteenth-century industrial revolution to portray modern life as a wasteland, a theme that critics also found in Sad-faced Men and Difficulty. In addition, Logan's poems allude to many authors and thinkers, including English naturalist Charles Darwin, English poet John Donne, and English composer Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In "Haddock's Eyes" in Sullen Weedy Lakes, he refers to two such literary figures as he imitates American W.H. Auden's poem "In Memory of W.B. Yeats."
Reviewers of Logan's work praised his control of difficult language and concepts. Richard Tillinghast, writing in the New York Times Book Review, observed that "when he manages to avoid obscurity, Mr. Logan writes with vigor, almost classical restraint and a fine sense of musicality." Bruce Bennett in the New York Times Book Review mentioned Logan's ability to use "saving devices of wit" in various poems to relieve the dark tone of the collections. Bennett felt, though, that the complexities of Logan's writing would prevent most readers from appreciating his poetry, stating that "because of the abstractness of much of his diction, the arcaneness of certain allusions and his unrelentingly rigorous intellectual discourse, Mr. Logan must be classed as a difficult poet, but he will richly reward those who make the effort to connect with him." Murray found Logan's abstractness to be rewarding and maintained that "his poetry has the abstract beauty of aerial photography…. It is as if emotion is traded for elegance of style and expression. The result is admirable and convincing art, if not altogether engaging."
Logan's collection Vain Empires was described by many critics as one of his strongest offerings. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, it is "a formidable, morally sophisticated accomplishment," in which the poet displays "a magnificent range of topical and formal resources." Several of his poems are long, historical monologues featuring figures such as Pliny the Elder, John Keats, and Vincent Van Gogh. "Following the tough-minded, authentically adventurous formalism of Sullen Weedy Lakes … this collection's once opulent, now crumbling edifices conceal the hope that our dabblings with empire might still teach us something." Rochelle Ramer wrote in Library Journal that Logan's verse was too much like the "dry, academic verse of the early 1950s," but Ray Olson in Booklist, called the verse "exquisite." He also termed it "hard and challenging," but advised that it would "repay alert, repeated reading with sensual as well as pure linguistic pleasure."
Reviewing Night Battles, the poet's next collection, another Publishers Weekly writer called Logan "[t]echnically skillful, well-traveled and impressively knowledgeable," and deemed him as a poet who "couples a welcome faculty for observation with a narrow range of sour emotions." Michael Scharf commented in a Poetry review: "William Logan is our Geoffrey Hill: cranky, gifted, and concerned with our unavoidable entanglements with the past's moral bequests…. this formidable volume takes its place beside Logan's three prior excursions in to textual unknowns, venturing beyond the alluring dazzle of empire."
Logan's recent collections also seem to demonstrate a preoccupation with the past and with mortality. "Macbeth in Venice evokes a city in its twilight," observed Antioch Review contributor Ned Balbo. In it, "The Shorter Aeneid" replaces classic figures with a pair of refugees of World War II who discover a Venice filled with rotting flesh and crumbling architecture. Other selections, too, reveal a city falling victim to its legacy of decadence, the splendor of its zenith transformed into the root of its impending demise. Balbo described the collection as a masterful achievement in which "Logan effortlessly captures" the city in decline. A Publishers Weekly contributor, while acknowledging the signature difficulty of Logan's work, similarly noted a collection of "immaculately crafted poems" that "trumpet an indisputable technical finesse."
The Whispering Gallery, while originating in contemporary America, also explores what Library Journal contributor E.M. Kaufman called "a steamy terrain of diminished expectations," meandering from bayou to seaside through disappearing prairie hamlets and dusty suburbs backward into the dying landscapes of Europe. Kaufman recommended Logan's work as "always engaging." A Publishers Weekly reviewer described The Whispering Gallery as a collection of "often bitter, but always intelligent, observations about collapsing marriages, disappointed travelers and the fate of the Western world," but also complimented the author's technique and his wit.
Logan has also received notice for his work as a critic. Discussing Reputations of the Tongue: On Poets and Poetry in Library Journal, Ellen Sullivan noted the writer's typical "candor and biting wit," and added that Logan shows "fearless honesty" in his analyses. And Christian Wiman observed in a Poetry review: "William Logan is the best practical critic around. I sometimes disagree with his judgements fiercely, but that I so fiercely disagree, that his prose provokes such a response, is what makes him the best. Most criticism is like most poetry: it simply leaves you indifferent. I've seen Logan's name bring bile to the lips of the gentlest spirits…. For breadth of intelligence, an incisive style, and pure passion, I don't think he can be matched."
Logan once told CA: "I've never considered my poetry difficult, a word that implies not just impaction, but giddy or indolent pig-headedness. If my poetry seems overly difficult to others, contemporary poetry doesn't seem difficult enough to me. Perhaps to a slightly greater degree than is now usual, I believe that emotion must lie in language—in the complication and redolence of language—and not in personal incident or the raillery of confession."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, winter, 2004, Ned Balbo, review of Macbeth in Venice, p. 179.
Booklist, February 15, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Vain Empires, p. 969.
Library Journal, March 1, 1982, review of Sad-faced Men, p. 552; March 15, 1986, Fred Muratori, review of Difficulty, p. 71; May 1, 1989, Jessica Grim, review of Sullen Weedy Lakes, p. 80; February 15, 1998, Rochelle Ramer, review of Vain Empires, p. 146; October 1, 1999, Ellen Sullivan, review of Reputations of the Tongue: On Poets and Poetry, p. 92; November 1, 1999, Louis McKee, review of Night Battle, p. 88; November 1, 2005, E.M. Kaufman, review of The Whispering Gallery, p. 80.
Nation, March 20, 1982, Richard Howard, review of Sad-faced Men, p. 342.
New Criterion, January, 2000, Paula Friedman, review of Reputations of the Tongue, p. 76.
New Statesman, January 18, 1985, Stephen Romer, review of Difficulty, p. 32.
New York Times Book Review, July 13, 1986, Richard Tillinghast, review of Difficulty, p. 35; March 12, 1989, Bruce Bennett, review of Sullen Weedy Lakes, p. 38; July 12, 1998, Henry Taylor, review of Vain Empires, p. 28.
Poetry, February, 1999, Michael Scharf, review of Vain Empires, p. 321; August, 1999, Christian Wiman, review of All the Rage: Prose on Poetry, 1976-1992, p. 286; December, 2000, Bill Christophersen, review of Night Battle, p. 217.
Publishers Weekly, January 22, 1982, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Sad-faced Men, p. 57; February 23, 1998, review of Vain Empires, p. 69; August 30, 1999, review of Night Battle, p. 77; June 23, 2003, review of Macbeth in Venice, p. 62; August 15, 2005, review of The Whispering Gallery, p. 35.
Times Literary Supplement, December 14, 1984, Simon Rae, review of Difficulty, p. 1456.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 14, 1986, G.E. Murray, review of Difficulty, p. 7.
World Literature Today, autumn, 2000, Lee Oser, review of Reputations of the Tongue, p. 824; October-December, 2003, William Pratt, review of Desperate Measures, p. 101.
"Logan, William 1950-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/logan-william-1950
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