A Selective Bibliography
Richard Poirier is best known today as the author of book-length studies of Robert Frost, Henry James, Emerson, and the Emersonian tradition in American poetry and fiction. These are listed below, with brief indications of their contents. In an effort to provide a wider view of his accomplishments as a writer and critic, this listing includes many of his uncollected essays and reviews, which often deal with politics, dance, and other contemporary topics. I have not tried to document the publishing history of his books; only the first American printing is given for each, with subsequent editions mentioned when they offer significant new material. The books themselves indicate the previous appearance in journals, magazines, and newspapers of the essays within them. It is assumed that the reader will have electronic access to the articles and reviews from newspaper supplements, so no section or page numbers are given for those items. Please send corrections or suggestions for additional items to
Thanks to Rowland Bennett, Kevin Mulcahy, Mark Scott, Jane Seiden, and Peggy Seiden for their help in preparing this bibliography.
- The Comic Sense of Henry James: A Study of the Early Novels. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960. As a writer, "Mr. Poirier is not muddy and he does revivify his subjects. He repeatedly forces us to distinguish between what we read and those tempting generalizations in which we judge the dilemma of, say, an Isabel Archer by standards outside the novel."—V.S. Pritchett, in The New Statesman 59:863, June 11, 1960.
- A World Elsewhere. New York; Oxford University Press, 1966. Rpt. with a foreword by Leo Bersani, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985. "I shall accordingly treat books and paragraphs of books as scale models of America. For if in American history some ideal national self has had to contend from the outset with realities of time, biology, economics, and social custom, so in American literature the individual self has had to struggle into life through media of expression shaped by these realities."
Contents: Forward; Preface; Self and Environment; Is There an I for an Eye?: The Visionary Possession of America; Visionary to Voyeur: Hawthorne to James; Transatlantic Configurations: Mark Twain and Jane Austen; Panoramic Environment and the Anonymity of Self.
- The Performing Self: Compositions and Decompositions in the Languages of Contemporary Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Rpt. with new foreward by Edward W. Said. "Cultural, social, and political analyses are sometimes unwittingly as repressive of the life calling out for help and understanding as are most forms of literary criticism, which, pretending to explore the life in works of art, have the effect of ignoring and withering it."
Contents: A Literature of Law and Order; The Politics of Self-Parody; The Literature of Waste: Eliot, Joyce, and Others; What Is English Studies? And If You Know What That Is, What Is English Literature; The Performing Self; Learning from the Beatles; The War Against the Young: Its Beginnings; Rock of Ages; Escape to the Future.
- Norman Mailer. New York: Viking Press, 1972. "Some of his contemporaries have written more shapely books, almost everyone who might be compared with him has avoided his excesses, but none has displayed his mastery of contemporary English as it has been fashioned not only in literature but ina multitude of media. No one now gives more hope that language may still be the potent instrument of human need in its confrontations with the benign as well as the wicked forces of institutionalized life."
Contents: The Form of a Literary Career (Mailer at War, Amnesia and Literary Ambition, The Release of the Selves and the Discovery of Time); The Form of History (Evocations and Repetitions, The Time of His Time); The Minority Within.
- Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. (322 pp.). Rpt. with new afterword, "The Voicing of Things," and a foreword by John Hollander. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990
Contents: A Preview; Beginnings (A Road Not Taken: Frost—Eliot and Joyce, Choices, Visions in Reserve); Outward Bound (Home and Extravagance, Women at Home, Soundings for Home); Time and the Keeping of Poetry; "The Exception I Like to Think I Am in Everything"; The Work of Knowing.
- The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections. New York: Random House, 1987. "Literature is so variable a factor in any situation that it is absurd to suppose that it is some sort of thing waiting neutrally to arbitrate real or imagined cultural crises."
Contents: Prologue: The Deed of Writing; The Question of Genius; Modernism and Its Difficulties; Venerable Complications: Literature, Technology, People; Resistance in Itself; Writing Off the Self
- Poetry & Pragmatism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992. "While I therefore cannot assume that these chapters will prove as easy of access as I have tried to make them, they are in tone, pace, and vocabulary intended for readers who themselves seldom make use of theoretical terminologies, who are hospitable to exploratory and digressive movements in an argument, and who might be grateful, now and then, for a few clarifying repetitions …"
Contents: Introduction; Superfluous Emerson; The Transfiguration of Work; The Reinstatement of the Vague; Reading Pragmatically: The Example of HUM 6.
- Trying It Out in America: Literary and Other Performances. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. "‘Every poem,’ says Frost, ‘is an epitome of the great predicament; a figure of the will braving alien entanglements.’ I try in these essays to attend very closely to this figure of the will, to celebrate its still active and activating authorial presence, as it continually moves through sentences and paragraphs, reanimating words that might otherwise stagnate in their acquired inertias."
Contents: Prologue; Marianne Moore: Accurate Gusto; Elusive Whitman; Reaching Frank O'Hara; Balanchine in America; The Hidden T. S. Eliot; Allusive Pop: Bette Midler in Concert; Erasing America (Baudrillard's America Deserta, Martin Amis's Inferno, Peter Conrad's Confusions); Vidal's American Empire; The Case of Arthur Inman; Is There an American Manhood?; Gertrude Stein: "Manly Agitations"; "Are they my poor?": Emerson's Steinian Question; In Cold Ink: Truman Capote; Mailer's Strangest Book; In Praise of Vagueness: Henry and William James; Melville's Vanity of Failure; Whitman: The End Game.
ANTHOLOGIES AND EDITIONS
- Stories: British and American. Edited by Jack Barry Ludwig and "W. Richard Poirier." Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953.
- Prize Stories 1961: The O. Henry Awards. New York: Doubleday, 1961. Edited and with an introduction by Richard Poirier. "And yet, despite the arriviste literary-ness that sometimes overtakes a magazine like Esquire … its fiction asks more of our intelligence, asks less of our tolerance of dullness that we may fell intolerant of slickness, than does, say, the present Kenyon Review."
- Prize Stories 1962: The O. Henry Awards. New York: Doubleday, 1962. Edited and with an introduction by Richard Poirier. "The feat of Mr. Pynchon's storytelling is that it succeeds in being extraordinarily serious about our historical moment even while being inalterably remote in its people or situations from anything that we can imagine nowadays as contemporary. We are meant to feel the gap as part of the significance of the story "
- In Defense of Reading: a reader's approach to literary criticism. Edited by Reuben Brower and Richard Poirier. New York: Dutton, 1962.
- Prize Stories 1963: The O. Henry Awards. New York: Doubleday, 1963. Edited and with an introduction by Richard Poirier. "Most of these stories manage to express dissatisfaction with characters who treat one another the way the authors seem to treat them, who think about one another as types and who react to situations with an extravagance that takes no account of very particular human feelings."
- Prize Stories 1964: The O. Henry Awards. New York: Doubleday, 1964. Edited and with an introduction by Richard Poirier.
- Prize Stories 1965: The O. Henry Awards. New York: Doubleday, 1965. Edited by Richard Poirier and William Abrahams.
- American Literature. 2 vols. Edited by Richard Poirier and William L. Vance. Boston: Little Brown, 1970. Poirier selected the works for volume 2, including works by authors from Hawthorne through Pynchon. The anthology is notable for its stipulated lack of headnotes or other editorial apparatus.
- The Oxford Reader: Varieties of Contemporary Discourse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Coedited with Frank Kermode.
- The Cosmos Reader. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. Edited by Edgar Z. Friedenberg "and others," including Richard Poirier and Max Black, Rene Dubos, Stanley Kauffmann, Irving Howe, Harvey Cox, Robert Coles, Robert Davis, and Leslie Fiedler.
- Raritan Reading. Edited by Richard Poirier. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990. "A collection of some of the best writing from Raritan, one of the most widely read quarterlies in America, features Pushcart and O'Henry award winning writers."
- Emerson. In the Oxford Authors series, general editor Frank Kermode. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Edited and with an introduction by Richard Poirier. "Emerson is not important because he needs to be retrieved by the culture he helped shape but because he enacts a mode of thinking which that culture has never dared to practise and that may, to borrow Lionel Trilling's phrase, be beyond culture."
- Robert Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays. New York: Library of America, 1995. Edited by Richard Poirier and Mark Richardson.
ESSAYS, REVIEWS, LETTERS
- "‘Strange Gods’ in Jefferson, Mississippi: Analysis of Absalom, Absalom! by "William R. Poirier". In Sewanee Review 53 (Summer 1945): 44-56. Rpt. in William Faulkner: Two Decades of Criticism. Eds. F. J. Hoffman and O.W. Vickery. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1951.
- Review of The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James by Frederick Crews. The New England Quarterly. 31:1 (1958): 123-127. "Readers of James who subscribe to T. S.Eliot's remark that he had a mind so fine that it was never violated by an idea may object when these conflicts are called ‘philosophical’ and when Mr. Crews goes on to refer to James's own ‘ideas.’Others, like myself,who have never understood how Eliot's remark could apply to a writer who is, among other things, so consistently allegorical, will welcome the acknowledgment in this book of the excogitative tendency in James's characters and of the consequences to the organization of the novels of James's own abstract thinking."
- "Cook's Tour." Review of V. by Thomas Pynchon.New York Review of Books 1 June 1963.
- "Á la Mode." Review of Puzzles and Epiphanies by Frank Kermode. New York Review of Books 1:1, February 1, 1963.
- "The Great Tradition." Review of Scrutiny, (1932-1953) with a Retrospect by F.R. Leavis. New York Review of Books 1:8, December 12, 1963.
- "Scrutiny." Reply to a letter to the editor from Hugh Kenner.New York Review of Books 23 January 1964. "No one would suspect that [Kenner] could make his admiration for Wyndham Lewis and the prose style of Whitaker Chambers compatible with a taste for Lawrence."
- "Point of View." New York Times Book Review. January 26, 1964.
- "Some Comments on Senator Goldwater."Partisan Review 31 (1964): 599-602.
- "Our Truest Historian." Review of For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell. Herald Tribune Book Week 2:5, October 11, 1964. "What I admire most about Lowell's poems, in fact, is that they seldom invite anyone to expand inside them; they almost never yield to generalizations about life or about the present situation; they stifle their own eloquence just at the point where it might publicize rather than serve a close scrutiny of the poet's feelings."
- Afterword. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. New York: New American Library-Signet Classics, 1964.
- "Text and the College Student." Partisan Review 32 (1965): 87-92.
- "Morbid-Mindedness." Review of An American Dream by Norman Mailer. Commentary 39: 91-94. June 1965. "Mailer and Lowell are alone, I think, in having created the style of contemporary introspection, at once violent, educated, and cool."
- Reply to letter to the editor from Gilbert Seldes. New York Times Book Review March 7, 1965.
- "Bellows to Herzog." Partisan Review 32 (1965): 264-71.
- "If You Know Who You Are You Can Go Anywhere." Review of Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor. New York Times Book Review May 30, 1965.
- "The Table of Contents Was a Roster of Greatness." Review of Scofield Thayer and the Dial: An Illustrated History. by Nicholas Joost. New York Times Book Review January 31, 1965.
- "No Invitation to Tea." Review of Re: Joyce by Anthony Burgess. New York Times Book Review January 9, 1966.
- "Embattled Underground." Review of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. New York Times Book Review May 1, 1966.
- "Worlds of Style." Partisan Review 33 (1966): 509-24.
- "Tough Enough to Live." Review of Robert Frost: The Early Years by Lawrence Thompson. New York Times Book Review November 6, 1966.
- "Raising Hellman." Letter to the editor in response to Elizabeth Hardwick's review of a production of The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman. New York Review of Books10:1, January 18, 1968. "Plucked from some child's toyland of neo-classicism, the standards of history and probability, or representativeness and instruction, have appeared in quite a few of the NYR's keynoting reviews of fiction and drama."
- "Nice Place to Visit." Letter to the editor in response to "Easy, Easy," by Frank Kermode. New York Review of BooksAugust 22, 1968. "I describe ‘Penny Lane’ as a beautiful neighborhood song, which is not at all to say Penny Lane is a beautiful neighborhood."
- "Personal Politics." Review of Twenty Letters to a Friend. by Svetlana Alliluyeva, trans. Priscilla Johnson. Commentary 45:87-92. April 1968. "This is a strangely difficult book to read not simply because the style is at once lurid and vague, but more because it's impossible to tell whether or not Svetlana Alliluyeva is politically illiterate out of emotional commitments or disingenuous out of political shrewdness."
- "Eccentric Theories That Apply." Review of The Freudian Left: Wilhelm Reich, Geza Roheim, and Herbert Marcuse by Paul A Robinson and Wilhelm Reich: A Personal Biography by Ilse Ollendorff Reich. New York Times Book Review October 26, 1969. "Reich challenged the facts that would injure in order to seek the facts that would heal; and in doing this all three set an ennobling and encouraging example even when, to the practical eye, they seem most strange."
- "Edward Villella." Vogue 153 (1969): 192-95.
- "A Strangely Dislocated World Which Takes No Comfort from Dying Forms." Review of Flats by Rudolph Wurlitzer. September 20, 1970.
- "Balanchine/Stravinsky." Atlantic Sep. 1972:100-104. "The New York City Ballet's Stravinsky Festival is the best answer to those who might legitimately have wondered what to point to as an example of how art might turn our attention from predigested literary truths and fictional banalities so that it might flow with the active, laboring forms of life."
- "Horatio Alger in the White House." Harper Sept. 1972: 96-104. "It never seems to occur to the Nixonian kind of American that the accidents and misfortunes that befall them should be blamed not on efforts to disrupt systems but on the very nature of the systems they have imposed upon themselves, that what appear to be minority or dissident voices may in fact be calls to a truer ordering of things than those invented for the advancement of careers or of empires."
- "Norman Mailer: A Self-Creation." Atlantic Oct. 1972:78-85. "His writing began to take form from the very instability of his voice, which means the instability of the self as well."
- "The Aesthetics of Radicalism." Partisan Review 41 (1974): 176-96.
- "Case of Mistaken Identity: Literature and the Humanities." Partisan Review 41 (1974): 521-38.
- "Ballet." The New Republic 171:24-27. July 20, 1974.
- "Nabokov as His Own Half Hero." Review of Look at the Harlequins! by Vladimir Nabokov. New York Times Book Review October 13, 1974.
- "Guide for Consumers to the Dance." The New Republic 15 March 1975: 30-32.
- "New York Scene." Atlantic March 1976: 12-15. "The many distinguished individuals who came to mourn at the services for Arendt and Trilling constituted a gathering rather than a community, and the service for Trilling, where there were no personal eulogies, was a bit like the funeral of a king who could have no successor."
- Introduction to Three by Lillian Hellman. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979. "Hellman's style is a catalytic medium for registering the shadows of things present and the vividness of things absent. Like Hellman herself, the style is strong and pliant enough to allow all the people with whom she deals the fullest and freest movement as they work out their individual destinies."
- "The Powerful Secret." Review of The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction by Michel Foucault, trans. Robert Hurley. New York Times Book Review January 14,1979.
- "Classics and Commercials." Review of Democracy and the Novel: Popular Resistance to Classic American Writers by Henry Nash Smith. New York Review of Books 22 February 1979.
- "Incandescences." Review of The Powers that Be by David Halberstam. London Review of Books 20 December 1979: 12-13.
- Introduction to Nathaniel Hawthorne, in the series American Men and Women of Letters by George E. Woodberry. New York: Chelsea House, 1980, pp. xi-xxv. Reprint of 1902 ed. "As Woodberry reminds us, he was himself closer to a time, and Hawthorne closer still, when ‘spirituality’ and the existence of the soul were among the ‘facts’ of life. They had in the consciousness a place no less powerful than sexuality does now, something people ‘see’ whenever they look at the manifestations of life around them."
- "Intruders." Review of A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone.New York Review of BooksDecember 3, 1981.
- Introduction to inaugural issue of Raritan 1:1 (1981): 1-2. "For our contributors, quite as much for the people or works they write about, language is not something that offers itself for summary or translation . . . . It is instead an activity, an agitated, often dislocating effort to appropriate and change the reality it confronts."
- "A Youth of the Universe." Review of Emerson in His Journals ed. Joel Porte, and Emerson's Fall: A New Interpretation of the Major Essays by Barbara Packer. New York Times Book Review June 20, 1982.
- "Humans." Review of Slow Learner by Thomas Pynchon. London Review of Books 24 January 1985: 18-20.
- "Green Giant." Review of Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered by William H. Pritchard.New York Review of BooksApril 25, 1995.
- "Big Pod." Review of Ex-Friends: Falling Out with Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Norman Mailer by Norman Podhoretz. London Review of Books 2 September 1999: 19-23.
- "Emerson: Abolishing Individualism." In Emerson at 200. ed. Giorgio Mariani et al. Rome, Italy; Aracne; 2004.
- "An Approach to Unapproachable America." In Raritan 26 (2007): 1-13. "Emerson is everywhere a dramatist of his own thinking, its indulgence in certain moods and beliefs, while on the lookout always for alternatives, as if, like America in its founding days, any settlement may quickly give way to abandonment, in a movement onward to other acts of settlement. … Well before Henry James was to write … ‘It's a complex fate, being an American,’ it was Emerson … who exulted in this ‘fate,’ and in a way of proceeding that was to manifest itself, all differences allowed, in Stein, Frost, Stevens, and Ashbery."
INTERVIEWS AND MISCELLANEA
- "The Art of Poetry, Number 2: Robert Frost." An interview with Robert Frost conducted by Richard Poirier. Paris Review 24 (Summer-Fall 1960): 1-34.
- "Negotiations: A Conversation with Richard Poirier," conducted by Benjamin Taylor. In Salmagundi 52-53 (1981): 107-118.
- "The Raritan Moment" by Anna Lewis in Scribleran 1:1 (2001): 10-17. This article, published in an undergraduate literary magazine from Rutgers University at the time of Poirier's retirement from Raritan, gives a comprehensive view of Poirier's achievement in creating the Rutgers English department, with attention to its academic roots at other institutions, its relation to trends in literary criticism, and its expression in the pages of Raritan.
- Reading in an Age of Theory ed. Bridget Gellert Lyons. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997. "At a time when theory seems to dominate academic thought, how can ‘close reading’ justify itself as a cogent and sophisticated interpretive strategy? Focusing on the work of Richard Poirier, one of the most influential proponents of close reading in this country, the contributors explore both the theoretical dimensions of the subject and practical applications to works by Shakespeare, Frost, James, and others. The contributors include Millicent Bell, Leo Bersani, David Bromwich, Thomas R. Edwards, Anne Ferry, David Ferry, Robert Garis, John Hollander, Frank Kermode, Ross Posnock, Barry Qualls, Margery Sabin, and Edward Said."
- "Richard Poirier: A Man of Good Reading" by Alexander Star. The New York Times 22 August 2009. "Mr. Poirier's criticism poses a challenge to literary professionals who bemoan that Americans are spending less time with the established classics as well as to Internet enthusiasts who boast that the Web will provide immediate access not only to the best that has been thought and said but to everything else. He reminds us that we should never be complacent about the glories of the canon, which is made up of texts as frustrating and unfinished as ourselves. And he suggests that linking and hyperlinking are no substitute for a sustained encounter with the great writers of the past, who were themselves both tormented and thrilled by ‘what words were doing to them and what they might do in return.’"