Review of Hart Crane volume from Library of America by Adam Kirsch in this week's New Yorker. Oddly parallels some themes in Milan Kundera essay in same issue ("What is a novelist"?). (Among other things, a novelist is a grown-up, whereas a poet's role, basically, is to express adolescent lyrical self-absorption. The novel = growing out of poetry. Aside from this he has a lot of sparkling, though not exactly new, things to say.)
Kirsch seems to be a master at refurbishing received opinion. On my quick 1st reading (hafta go back again), I would summarize his argument as : Yvor Winters & Allen Tate were ultimately correct, even though their analyses were on faulty grounds. Crane is indeed an adorable grand failure. Not because he didn't have talent, but because American culture itself was too thin to bear the weight of his literary-nationalist aspirations (out of Waldo Frank's Our America).
Taking these two articles as (meager) evidence, we must be living in a very anti-romantic, rationalistic, prose-centered era these days.
Kirsch writes that the fact that Library of America had to pad the volume with lots of Crane's letters, thereby emphasizing the bio over the work, only underlines the reality of failure, since Crane's goal was to be an exemplar of Modern epic & mythic-social objectivity. This is not a very good argument, though, since Crane's output was relatively small, and the letters are of great critical interest.
There will be more to be said about the gift of Crane's poetry, and its relation to America's developing culture. Eliot, Winters, Tate, Poetry magazine, & now Kirsch haven't boxed & bottled him yet.