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The Fading Smile: Poets in Boston, from Robert Frost to Robert Lowell to Sylvia Plath, Hardcover – August 9, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"There's a strange fact about the poets of roughly our age, and one that doesn't exactly seem to have always been true," observed Robert Lowell in a letter to Theodore Roethke in 1963. "It's this, that to write we seem to have to go at it with such single-minded intensity that we are always on the point of drowning." In this memoir, poet and Houghton Mifflin editor Davison traces the connections that linked a large, dynamic and, at times, self-destructive group of American poets--Lowell, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath among them--for five years as Boston experienced its "second poetic renaissance." Separate chapters discuss individual poets, and the author writes evocatively, too, of his own strivings during that same period in the Boston area. But the main interest of the book is the way Davison follows the writers' complex interrelations, fostered by teachers (John Holmes), institutions (the Poets' Theatre of Cambridge), proximity, choice and chance. This is a personal and vivid portrait of a literary moment and its community. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is a sad book, its gloom relieved only by the author's intimate knowledge of and tenderness toward the dozen Boston-based poets he knew as colleagues and friends. Most of these writers were oppressed by gender roles, sexual anxiety, too much drink, and too many cigarettes, so much so that one begins to suspect that these personal crises arose at least in part from a larger, historical one. In an epigraph, Janet Malcolm writes, "The nineteenth century came to an end in America only in the nineteen-sixties," and Davison's poets give every impression of participating in some painfully restrictive ethos that is about to die. The poets even looked alike; in the photographs, the men, at least, all seem to be made out of the same dour ingredients: crew cut, dark suit and tie, Buddy Holly glasses. From a terrible time came beautiful poetry, and Davison alone, like Melville's Ishmael, lived to tell the tale.
David Kirby, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (August 9, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679406581
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679406587
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,705,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John Lederman on March 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After my wife and I first went to Boston, and before our second trip, I acquired and read this book, The Fading Smile. Poets In Boston... . On the first trip we found ourselves, one grey afternoon, in the bar at the Ritz Carlton opposite Boston Common, having drinks. It had the atmosphere of something... but what? Now we know that Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton used to also go here for drinks after Robert Lowell's poetry classes. Wouldn't you have loved to have been a fly on the wall for those times. Although the Ritz has now been bought and re-modelled, re-named, The Taj (in 06-07), one can still feel a bit of the old ghosts of the place.

This book is a fascinating recounting of those times and the many poets in Boston and Cambridge and their various relationships by one who was of that circle. Not a "tell-all", just human. People on their life journey. Interesting formative people. It can guide you on an alternative tour of the city and with a little imagination you can 'see' and feel what went on behind those walls from the time and the people who led one writer, I forget which, to say 'America did not enter the twentieth century until the 1960s.' These are among the formative ones and this is one of the places that led that to happen. You will see Boston differently after. And isn't that what makes any read worthwhile.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JNagarya on March 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An accessible, well-written account of a major period in US poetry, centered on the poets from Boston and environs.

The author, poetry editor of the "Atlantic Monthly," knew them all personally.

Open and "intimate" but not lurid.
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