The Flip Side of the Coin

The most underrated writers.  And I'm gratified to see on this List Anthony Hecht and Shirley Jackson.  Oh, and the enormously underrated Georgette Heyer.  Her books are out in reprint and you owe yourself the favor of indulging in at least one of them.  Rather like Angela Thirkell--you must find at least one to enjoy.


  1. Anthony Hecht is almost too good. That is to say, when I read him, I get discouraged by his prosodical prowess and his breadth of learning, to which I cannot hope to aspire.

    I would say that the American poet J. V. Cunningham is underrated, as is (currently) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow -- out of fashion, but could make beautiful poems on occasion ("Divina Commedia," "The Cross of Snow," etc.)

    One of my very favorite poets, E. E. Cummings, is simultaneously overrated and underrated. His typographical experiments are, I think, overrated; his exquisitely and delicately formal Herrick-like lyrics ("except in your/honour"; "yes is a pleasant country"; "when the proficient poison of sure sleep") are sorely underrated.

  2. Dear Dylan,

    As to Longfellow--I couldn't agree more. Some of the poetry can be a bit "twee": however, both Epics, "The Wreck of the Hesperus" and the translation of Dante do indeed stand the test of time.

    And I'm grateful to you because I had for a long time felt that e.e. cummings was entirely dismissable because of his cuteness with punctuation to which my reaction was, to quote Truman Capote in a different context, "That's not writing, that's typewriting."

    I'll have to look into Cunningham. One whom I've found very, very fine is Ted Kooser. Yes, he was poet laureate, but I still don't think he has the audience he deserves--nor, for that matter, does Kay Ryan because of the relative obscurity and lack of availability of her poetry. A great shame.



  3. I am wary of rating authors. Even authors that I most often embrace offer up some clinkers now and then. Consider, for example, some of Shakespeare's early plays, some of Wordsworth's later effort, most of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novels, and almost all of Tennessee Williams's plays after the 1940s and 50s. On the other hand, to show that I am willing to play along, but risking heresy within my profession, I would offer the following shortlist of over-rated authors whose work does little or nothing for me: Henry James as novelist (though I enjoy his shorter works); Toni Morrison; John Updike; Philip Roth; and--even though this one will annoy you--James Joyce as novelist. Among over-rated poets, I would include (with even more blasphemy) John Milton, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe. Well, that ought to stir things up a bit!

  4. Dear RT,

    Not annoyed at all. I have often said that everyone should read Joyce, certainly the earlier works, and even _Ulysses_, but by that I mean more, that no one should be put off by reputation.

    I receive enormous pleasure from both Joyce and Henry James and would, of course, disagree as to their value; however, I'm not certain I would disagree as to their over-valuation. I think Joyce's importance is blown out of proportion to his opus (in some ways). He is undoubtedly one of the most influential writers of all time--but influence v. his own merits--I think there is much to be said there.

    I agree with almost everyone else on your list. Although honestly, Byron and Shelley (along with the rest of the Romantics) are regarded largely as remnants and a joke. I never thought Byron's critical reputation was all that great in comparison to the others--he just had an interesting scandalous life. Poe doesn't strike me as one with a great critical reputation--but you may travel in different circles than I do. But I do enjoy, very much the poetry of all of them. And on Whitman, I must agree. I'm learning better how to enjoy his work, and I do recognize its fundamental influence in the destruction of modern poetry; however, I think much is made of very little--there are a few lines here and there, some magnificent stretches, but mostly. . .

    As to the three novelists--I have yet to enjoy a work by either Morrison or Updike. I have finally acquired a taste or learned to appreciate in some measure Philip Roth, but I do agree that he tends to be lauded even for the most minor and trivial works and much of what he does I find utterly repulsive.

    Thank you for the comments. Thought-provoking and interesting.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Another Queen of Night

Lewis Carroll and James Joyce

Structures--Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway