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The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane Paperback – January 23, 2013

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Editorial Reviews Review

In addition to several volumes of poetry, Paul Mariani has also written biographies of major 20th-century American poets: William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman. In his fourth biography, he takes on the life of Hart Crane (1899-1932), a contemporary of Williams who held a similarly pivotal role in the development of American literature's avant-garde. "It would be difficult," Mariani suggests, "to find a serious poet or reader of poetry in this country today who has not been touched by something in Hart Crane's music." (However, at the time, many critics--with some of whom he had strained personal relationships--did not evaluate his work so highly, which contributed in part to Crane's dramatic suicidal leap off a ship at sea.) Crane loved New York, moving there from his hometown of Cleveland as soon as he could; even when financial straits forced him to return home to work for his father, the "white buildings" of Manhattan loomed in his imagination. The Broken Tower does a fine job of recreating the passionate energy and vitality of Crane's life. Mariani weaves lines from Crane's letters and poems into his narrative throughout, and while he does not skimp in his accounts of the poet's alcoholism and promiscuous sex life with other men, he treats these matters simply as components of the poet's complex personality. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The first account of Crane to embrace his homosexuality and to assess its place in his poetry, Mariani's biography illuminates previously shadowy corners of the writer's life. John Unterecker's Voyager appeared 30 years ago, only a few months before the Stonewall protest helped to galvanize a movement that, by now, has done away with the qualifications and apologies so long applied to gay writers and their work. Mariani, who has written lives of John Berryman, Robert Lowell and William Carlos Williams, does not have Unterecker's (or the first Crane biographer Philip Horton's) advantage of having interviewed many who knew Crane. But he compensates by quoting more extensively, and tellingly, from Crane's correspondence, one of the most revealing and insightful of the literary 20th century. Mariani also has a better grasp on Crane's complex relationship with his parents, especially in his sensitive portrayal of Crane's father (the inventor of Life Savers candy), who heretofore has been treated as a stereotypical philistine. Mariani also clears up many misconceptions about Crane's final despairing months in Mexico and his sole tormented heterosexual affair. The one flaw in Mariani's research is that he has not drawn on the existing collections of the papers of Crane's closest friends and associates, such as Waldo Frank, Yvor Winters and Gorham Munson. All these individuals appear here through Crane's eyes. Perhaps Mariani is compensating for his predecessors' propensity to depict Crane through the recollections of others, but a more balanced approach would have strengthened the book. His occasionally florid style notwithstanding, Mariani does the necessary work of throwing sympathetic light on Crane's sexuality, and makes a convincing case for Crane as one of the greatest American poets of the century.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393320413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393320411
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The oldest of seven children from a working-class background, Paul Mariani was born in New York City in 1940 and grew up there and on Long Island. He earned his bachelor's degree from Manhattan College, a Master's from Colgate University, and a PhD. from the City University of New York. He is the author of seven poetry collections: Epitaphs for the Journey: New, Selected & Revised Poems (Cascade Books, 2012), Deaths & Transfigurations (Paraclete Press, 2005), The Great Wheel (W. W. Norton, 1996), Salvage Operations: New & Selected Poems (W.W. Norton,1990), Prime Mover (Grove Press, 1985), Crossing Cocytus (Grove Press,1982), and Timing Devices (Godine, 1979).

He has published numerous books of prose, including Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius (Viking, 2002), and God and the Imagination: On Poets, Poetry, and the Ineffable (University of Georgia Press, 2002). Other books include A Usable Past: Essays, 1973-1983 (1984), William Carlos Williams: The Poet and His Critics (1975), and A Commentary on the Complete Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1970), as well as five biographies: Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life (Viking, 2008) The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane (W. W. Norton, 1999); Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell (1994), all named New York Times Notable Books of the year; Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman (1990); and William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked (1981), which won the New Jersey Writers Award, was short-listed for an American Book Award, and was also named a New York Times Notable Book of the year. Simon & Schuster will publish his The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens in August, 2015.

His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has also been shortlisted for the Tait Award for biography. He was Distinguished University Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught from 1968 until 2000, when he was named University Professor of English at Boston College. In 2009 he received the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. Mariani and his wife, Eileen, have three grown sons and live in western Massachusetts. He is currently working on a memoir of growing up on the mean streets of Manhattan in the 1940s. The Broken Tower, his biography of Hart Crane, was turned into a film, directed by and starring James Franco, and is available on DVD, including a lengthy interview with Franco. He has also contributed to two films--one on John Berryman, and another on Wallace Stevens. He has lectured widely and read his poems here and abroad.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In a short, wild, and mostly unhappy life, Harold Hart Crane (1899-1932) became -- Hart Crane -- a major figure in 20th Century American poetry whose reputation has grown with time. His life became the stuff of legend. Hart Crane left an unhappy home at the age of 17 to live in New York City and follow his dream to become a poet. Without any formal education -- he did not finish high school -- he used his inborn gifts and wide reading to quickly become important to New York's literary culture and community. His first book, White Buildings, is a collection of short, difficult imagistic poetry. His second book, The Bridge, is a lengthy poem offering a mystic, highly personal account of America, its past and its future, using the Brooklyn Bridge is its chief symbol.
Crane's life was one of excess. From late adolesence, Crane drank heavily. He spent a great deal of time in underworld sex picking up sailors in the harbors of New York, all the while trying to conceal his sexual identity from his parents. Towards the end of his life, his behavior grew increasingly violent and self-destructive. He was jailed on several occasions in New York, Paris, and Mexico. Near the end, he did have what seems to be his only heterosexual relationship with Peggy Cowley, the divorced wife of the critic and publisher, Malcolm Cowley. Crane committed suicide when he returned with Peggy Cowley from Mexico in 1932 by jumping off the deck of a ship. He was all of 32.
Published in 1999, Mariani's biography commenmorates the Centennial of Crane's birth. It gives a good detailed account Crane's life. The poetic focus of the book is The Bridge. (some critics see White Buildings as the stronger, more representative part of Crane's work.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is an extremely readable and enlightening bio of one of our greatest poets. The book falters slightly at the end, failing to surpass Unterecker's description of the last days in Mexico. There are also patches of purple prose and an apparent tendency to play fast and loose with the facts. Mr. Mariani makes many minor errors (e.g. Waldo Frank's City Block is a novel; H. P. Lovecraft was from Providence RI and the quotes are from his letters; Aaron Copeland was not present at the Greenwich Village party at which Crane read; etc.). He appears to have embellished, as well, as when he "quotes" Samuel Loveman as he foils a Crane suicide attempt. Mariani has invented the dialog. He also fails to note that the elderly Loveman was notoriously unreliable--the entire episode may be a fabrication. Taken individually, these errors mean little. Taken collectively, they indicate that this book must be approached with caution from a scholarly perspective. But it still makes a great read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By KSG on January 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
An extremely well written biography of Hart Crane, America's first great modern poet, recreates a fascinating time in the US when the artists of New York lived in cold water flats and drank prohibition liquor (Crane seems to have drank the most). The author deals with Crane's homosexuality as an integral part of his art (as it should be) which apparently has not been the case up until now. My only complaint is that there is too much made up dialogue between Crane and his friends. After awhile you begin to feel you have entered the land of fiction instead of biography. The author presents Crane's horrible relationship with his tyrannical father as the cause of much of his short life's misery.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By price cartwright on August 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
The Broken Tower: Paul Mariani

I was somewhat surprised to read that actor James Franco's upcoming new movie is based on Professor Paul Mariani's biography of Hart Crane, The Broken Tower. I wondered why Franco would want to play the role of a poet most readers of poetry find far too opaque even to attempt to decode; his masterpiece, The Bridge, is a poem that for most of us needs to be read and studied with a learned guide, one like Mariani. I had read Mariani's biography of Crane when it was first published in 1999. It was not the first of Mariani's biographies I'd read: I read his definitive biography of William Carlos Williams, a masterpiece of research; his biography of Robert Lowell as well as his biography of John Berryman. I knew he was without doubt America's finest biographer of poets, as well as a fine poet himself. I also knew him to be a dazzling teacher, having studied with him one summer, and finally I knew him to be one of our finest critics of poetry, the equal of Dr. Helen Vendler with whom I also studied.
And now out of nowhere, his biography of Hart Crane has now been made into a movie staring one of Hollywood's hottest young actors, who, by the way, is seeking a doctorate in English literature. So with my interest piqued, I decided to reread Mariani's The Broken Tower. I noticed other reviewers have taken Mariani to task for some minor errors, about which I could care less. Few books enter the world without mistakes. His are not major. What is major is his knowledge and appreciation of the life of a complicated, brilliant poet who was also an alcoholic and a homosexual. Not once in the whole biography is Mariani judgmental about either issue.
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