Author: Peter Howarth


They put on exotic European imports, like René Char’s balletic The Man Who Walked in a Ray of Sunshine, and earnest home-grown efforts like Lyon Phelps’ The Gospel Witch, a play about Salem fated to be overtaken by Arthur Miller’s. They staged the solemnity of Yeats’ Purgatory and the cheerful absurdity of Ashbery’s Pirandello-style comedy, The Compromise. Readers included metrical conservatives like Richard Wilbur, so-called Confessional poets Anne Sexton and George Starbuck, and professional circuit performers like Dylan Thomas and Louis MacNeice. Kenneth Koch and James Merrill sent them plays, and there was a brilliant adaptation of Finnegans Wake (by Mary Manning Howe). Even Gregory Corso had a brief stint with the Poets’ Theatre, as a janitor.

ON THE CIRCUIT: Peter Howarth on the Rise of the Modernist Circuit (April 14, 6:00pm)

The Woodberry Poetry Room is pleased to feature an excerpt from Peter Howarth’s upcoming talk, which will take place on Tuesday, April 14th at 6:00pm. Howarth has spent this past year at the Woodberry Poetry Room and at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, researching the rise of the Modernist poetry circuit. Tomorrow’s event will include archival recordings by W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas. W.H. Auden’s poem “On the Circuit” features the classic description of the bleary, bad-tempered poet on a reading tour, hating it and hating himself for doing it. It begins with defensive scorn: the other passengers going their “lewd pelagian” way are trying to earn their way to the good life, while our poet is apparently the “airborne instrument” of pure grace. But his sense of predestination turns out to mean being trapped in the schedule imposed by his implacable agency. The comparison of himself to St. Paul, sent alike “to Gentiles and to Jews,” is more self-irony.  Auden, we gather by the end, is a travelling evangelist for poetry with a …