December 13, 2007KR BlogUncategorized

Karl Shapiro on Auden, or: Beware the Consciousness Addicts

Digging through what we here affectionately call “the vault” (where back issues come to rest), I picked up the 1964 Winter Issue of KR–our 100th issue, and a tribute to John Crowe Ransom. (Our 70th year of publication is approaching–I wanted to see how we’ve done ‘grand’ in the past.) Inside I found this: three takes, by George P. Eliot, Karl Shapiro, and Stephen Spender, on the W. H. Auden poem “A Change of Air.” Shapiro’s is a delight; I excerpt it here partly because Joe Campana and I both have had Auden on our minds recently, too, and partly because of a writing style and wit that has a strange genius all its own. Such weird and stunning declarative sentences. Buckle your seat belts, ladies and gents:

“Nobody in his right mind is going to horse around with an Auden poem–even a blackboard poem like this one, written with one hand tied behind him. Talk about an Auden poem is anyhow irrelevant; he is a poet of issues and the issues are big. He is his own anthology, the typical poet of the age, the Explainer, and all that. He really is all that. He is lost of other things, one of the few masters of modern speech, one of the great practitioners of English prosody, a true custodian of the tradition. In the Serious World he is already aere perennius, something which is not absolutely certain about Eliot, for instance.

Baudelaire was a great furniture salesman and the twentieth century is sill buying and selling his Effects.

Des muebles luisants
Polis par les ans,
Decoreraint notre chambre

He was also the pseudo-traveler or travel agent.

The travel agent never goes anywhere and is apparently happy sighing through the brochures. This voyage of Baudelaire’s which he never took–never intended to take–is one of the great topics of modern poetic conversation. But B after all was on a short tether; A is not. Baudelaire made an ideology out of his fear of travel and his hatred of the home town (Paris). We inherit his hatred and his fears. But Auden has the ambience of a fish and is a regular Vasco da Gama. The voyage of B has long since become an affair of psychoanalysts. The voyage of A was a quest and ended successfully in the chapel. B was ashamed of his touristic sensibility and lampooned it, while A covered all the ground and found it wanting. In between was Rimbaud, the last of the voyagers really to go Elsewhere. Nowadays going Elsewhere is as easy as falling off a log.

…I think it was Robert Browning who said his name over and over until he reached the plane of illumination–the moment before the fit so often described by epileptics. Browning was the farthest thing from an epileptic, and we have no illuminati among modern poets, only consciousness addicts and intelligent poets. Intelligent poets are extremely rare and Auden is one of them. Perhaps it is the voayge to the land of intelligence which makes modern poetry so peculiar. In any case, this concern about name and self pulls the rug out from under poetry. If there is one question the poet is not allowed to ask, it is Who am I? (There goes 90 percent of poetry.)”

Hat’s off to Shapiro for horsing around with an Auden poem. What an amazingly prescient take on things.

About the Program

The Kenyon Review Associates Program provides Kenyon students with valuable experience in literary editing, publishing, and programming. KR Associates work closely with Kenyon Review staff, gaining valuable experience in a number of editing, publishing, and programming areas including manuscript evaluation, publicity and marketing, copy editing, developing web site and social media content, outreach programming, event planning and promotion, and other creative and editorial projects

KR Associates attend regular seminars conducted by Kenyon Review editorial staff, visiting readers, and publishing industry professionals. These seminars cover a wide range of topics including editorial philosophy, evaluation of submissions, print and electronic production, marketing, and design.

KR Associates enjoy also enjoy exclusive access to visiting writers and speakers, free issues of The Kenyon Review, and valuable work experience and employment references.

This program is made possible through an initiative of the Kenyon Review, part of the mission of which is to contribute to the enrichment of the academic, cultural, and artistic life of the Kenyon College community.

Requirements and Expectations

  • Submission Evaluation: All Associates are required to read and evaluate eight Kenyon Review submissions per week. Associates who are not able to complete their weekly submission assignments for more than two weeks in a row may not be allowed to continue in the program.
  • Trainings and Seminars: In-person attendance is mandatory at all trainings and seminars. We plan on scheduling six to eight seminars per semester, and most will take place on Thursdays during common hour.
  • Literary Engagement: Associates are expected to participate in literary events on campus and throughout the local community.

Application Details

The application deadline for the 2023-24 program has passed. Applications for the 2024-25 program will open in the fall of 2024. Please check back then for more details.

Questions? Please contact Tory Weber for more information.