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Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2011 07:11AM
How would you sort the following writers, in order of finest overall artist? (Not measuring volume of output.) You may naturally exclude some writers from the list, and add others, if you like, to suit your perspective of interest. They are listed here simply after birth. I'm not sure how I would sort them myself, since each may be too different from the others to compare. But I gather that there ultimately must be a definite order of quality between them.

Shakespeare
John Keats
E. A. Poe
Le Fanu
M. R. James
Arthur Machen
Algernon Blackwood
W. H. Hodgson
Dunsany
A. Merritt
Lovecraft
C. A. Smith
Jack Vance



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 4 Jun 11 | 07:13AM by Knygatin.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2011 10:53AM
Poets:

Shakespeare

Keats

Shelley

Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Blake

Poe

Walter de la Mare


Prose Writers:

Sir Thomas Browne

Poe

Julien Gracq

Walter de la Mare

Stefan Grabinski

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Dexterward (IP Logged)
Date: 5 June, 2011 04:03AM
Absquatch,

I agree with your list for poets, but I think I would flip your ordering of De la Mare and Poe: For me, De la Mare has a subtlety and delicate musicality that exceeds anything Poe was capable of. (And I'm not speaking of my PERSONAL preference here!) And while I'm not familiar enough with Beddoes to place him, you've reminded me that I need to become better acquainted with his work. Also, what about "Smith the Poet"? I disagree with Sterling that Smith was so far removed from Keats - and I think that S.T. Joshi deserves much credit for ranking him among the 20th century elite. Of course, I don't suppose I'd put Smith above Blake, but I don't think he's so far behind either - and definitely ahead of Poe, probably right beside De La Mare.

For prose-stylists I think we need to make more of a distinction betwen "conventional" and "weird" writers. With poetry it's easier to bridge the gap, but how does on compare, say, Montaigne, Cicero, Proust, Mann, Tolstoy, etc. with our beloved friends Lovecraft, Machen, James, Merritt - or even CAS? It would be difficult to argue that any of the "weirdists" could even compete in this class. However, that's not to say that I don't ENJOY them infinitely more (on the whole), and that in relation to their particular and limited aims, they don't achieve something which the more mainstream writers could never match.

And yes, I know it's a fool's errand to make lists like this - but it is rather fun!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 5 Jun 11 | 04:28AM by Dexterward.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Dexterward (IP Logged)
Date: 5 June, 2011 04:27AM
Oh, and I suppose that we are all tacitly agreeing that people like Milton (yawn), Homer, Dante, Chaucer, etc., would all have a stong suit to be in the top ranks - but that (with the exception of Homer!) they are all in the "great but tedious" class? Of course, we are also neglecting Yeats, who I think would probably have to go right after Keats and Shelley. But that said, I think I prefer the more unconventional lists - even at the expense of critical accuracy!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 5 Jun 11 | 04:30AM by Dexterward.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 5 June, 2011 11:17AM
You have forgotten Spenser and Jonson - and, if you find these writers and Milton "tedious" --- "the fault, Horatio, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves..." - my good friend Don Fryer has made a living reciting Smith and Spenser (to whom I introduced him lo, these many years ago) - Read the great poets aloud - indeed any poet - and you will hear music that cannot be retrieved by reading - my list includes Gerard Manley Hopkins (who else writes lines that sound like what a thing looks like?), James Weldon Johnson (see "God's Trombones"), Henry Reid - small output of absolute masterpieces, and Dylan Thomas (for the sheer lush glory of English filtered through a Welshman). Chaucer of course needs the extra effort of mastering old English to hear him properly - especially the bawdy stuff; and whomsoever composed "Beowulf" is worth the effort of mastering Anglo-Saxon - you will never have heard such vocal terror as the sounds of the descriptions of Grendal - brrrr! For CAS, "Temporality" and "Not altogether Sleep" are among the finest poems of love in Engish - A friend of mine wrote a Master's dissertation entitled, "Robert Frost", poet of terror" - and, indeed, makes a really good case for it - The interesting thing about Frost was that when read aloud by himself, it sounded deceptively like conversation - I had that privelege in 1960 when the old boy was 85 and receiving an honorary degree at Syracuse - theretofore, I had not paid much attention, yet "profound simplicity" in his work made a deep impression. An earlier writer on this thread mentioned the inherent unfairness in making such a list - and I think this is so, since differences in genre and style as well as subject matter have an enormous affect on the reader/listener.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 5 June, 2011 11:19AM
Quote:
I think I would flip your ordering of De la Mare and Poe: For me, De la Mare has a subtlety and delicate musicality that exceeds anything Poe was capable of.

I see your point, but Poe was a tremendous influence on de la Mare, and I simply cannot rate pupil ahead of master, in this case.

Quote:
Also, what about "Smith the Poet"?

Certainly he is among the 20th Century's greatest poets, but unfortunately that's a bit like being king of the pygmies. Smith's deliberate archaisms and occasional over-ornateness weaken his poetry, and keep him behind the likes of de la Mare, for my taste.

As for Poe, again, Poe was too much CAS's master for me to rate CAS ahead of Poe--and I think that CAS would be the first to agree with me, if he could speak to the matter.

Prose stylists: I agree with you, and my list was merely a potpourri of favorites. No weirdist I know, including CAS, even remotely approaches the level of a Julien Gracq, for instance.

Quote:
I know it's a fool's errand to make lists like this - but it is rather fun!

That's certainly the point, I think. All it reveals, ultimately, is the contributors' tastes, which may or not be of interest to anyone else.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: MarshallO (IP Logged)
Date: 30 June, 2011 11:04AM
Charles Beaumont.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Gill Avila (IP Logged)
Date: 30 June, 2011 04:09PM
I agree with choosing Beaumont, but I include Fritz Leiber jr equally. I'm surprised that no one mentioned him.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: asshurbanipal (IP Logged)
Date: 5 July, 2011 12:01PM
Best writer, regardless of genre? Frances Parkman is in there with a shout. Much undervalued, I suspect, by his fellow Americans, but absolutely world class. His writings are feasts of information and style.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 10 December, 2011 08:15PM
I can't speak for non-fantastic writers, since conventional mundane literature bores me so much. But among the writers I have listed above, I will be so bold as to say (and in the saying probably sink what rudimentary respect I may have harbored on this forum!) that Lovecraft and CAS are the greatest prose writers ever. Others in that list may have had greater minds, or have had more distinguished styles. But when it comes to overall handling of words as a artistic medium to present a situation, none other reached up to these two gentlemen's ability to select and order words for natural clarity. Lovecraft's mountainous correspondence also illustrates how ingrained the written word was as a tool for communication, almost like an extra added anatomical communication organ grown inside.

For those interested in astrology, it may be said that both Lovecraft and CAS were born under that narrow window onto the cosmos, when both of the two most important and dominant generational planets, Pluto (deeply forceful transformative energy) and Neptune (imagination, fantasy and spiritual energy) stayed in Gemini (the medium of intellect and communication) simultaneously. With the right personal characteristics and talents, as Lovercraft and CAS had, their talents may have tapped (unconsciously of course) the generational energy forms specific to this time, for added boost of artistic power. This was the era when the intellect and clean mental communication was the foremost artistic tool.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Gill Avila (IP Logged)
Date: 10 December, 2011 09:52PM
I'd nominate Guy de Maupassant, but I don't know if "The Horla" was his only foray into horror/fantasy. Was he one of those writers whose stories ended--"And then I woke up; it had all been a dream?"

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 10 December, 2011 11:55PM
Gill Avila Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I'd nominate Guy de Maupassant, but I don't know
> if "The Horla" was his only foray into
> horror/fantasy. Was he one of those writers whose
> stories ended--"And then I woke up; it had all
> been a dream?"


Not really. You can find all his horror/suspense tales collected in a volume titled The Dark Side (translations by Arnold Kellett). It's a respectably-sized volume, but most of the tales there are "tales of terror" rather than "tales of the supernatural"... which is not to diminish them in any way, simply to make a distinction. At any rate, there are about thirty tales which classify, out of his 300+ short stories, and even those which are non-supernatural often walk that borderline very closely. The atmosphere in some of these (such as "On the River") is really quite well done, and the book is well worth seeking out....

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: cathexis (IP Logged)
Date: 23 December, 2011 04:53PM
What - Nobody votes for Homer ? Melville?
(with the assumption Homer was a person in the 1st place).

Each to his own I suppose. My reply is this:
Homer, Shakespeare, and Melville are to Greatest Writers as
The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix are to Greatest Rock.
I will grant Poe if you grant Neil Young. I concede Lovecraft
but then we must admit Kurt Cobain. That is, if "Pym" than
"Cowgirl in the Sand" and therefore if "Mountains of Madness"
we must allow, "Memories." Each follows from each.

To deny any of this would be for you to deny that you don't
curl your toes at the moment of orgasm - But you know you do.

-Andrew (dis-associating fetishistically)

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 March, 2012 08:18PM
From some prominent posters on this forum I have gotten the impression that you regard poetry a higher, or more important literary art-form than prose. Seeing prose is second grade, something to read when feeling less intellectually ambitious, as a more relaxed entertainment to pass a little extra time away, perhaps even bordering on "guilty pleasure". Prose being inferior because it uses so many words, and therefore is less pure. Is it so, that you look upon prose as lower than poetry?

I have to admit that I don't get all that much satisfaction out of reading poetry. (I would guess that writing it, gives more pleasure for the poet.) Sure, good poetry presents a distilled thought, captures a situation at a certain time, a mood, an atmosphere, a wisdom of analogy. And I can see that as an art-form, it is a challenge trying find the exact right words to express a certain vision as cleanly as possible. But at the same time poetry needs to find words that will fit with the rythm, and rhyme, and to me that seems obviously like an artificial and unnatural impediment hindering the way of purest meaning. Further, its form and structure draws too much attention to itself.

Also, to use a comparison, to me poetry is like a painter's carefully worked out and balanced drawing (or it can also be like a watercolor sketch!), the "skeleton" construction of the painting. But it doesn't include all the gradually shifting tones of paint applied with brush, the "flesh" of the painting, represented by prose.

Poetry presents me with an uplifting idea, a pleasant distilled thought, inspiration leading me in a certain direction. But it never draws me into a complete illusion of alternate reality, of fulfilled ecstatic vision, the way prose does. Prose, like painting, takes its time to build up a fullfilled creation, with all nuances and subtleties. Prose (which includes "prose poetry") is to me the highest literary form.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 28 March, 2012 12:37AM
Let's see if I can take a swipe at this; though I will preface my comments by stating up front that they are off-the-cuff and after an exhausting day, so how coherent they will be... who knows?

I would say that, first, poetry is more closely allied to music, both in the sense of rhythm (even vers libre, at its best, has its own rhythmical aspects to it) and in the attention to the sound of the words, both individually and collectively, to create a symphony of sound eliciting both visual and emotional responses in the reader. In the best poetry, every word, every pause, counts; it works toward the total effect, the impact on the reader's psyche, acting as keys (again in the musical sense) being played in patterns to evoke not only a variety of emotions, but often a complex of emotional responses simultaneously.

Prose can do this too, of course, but it has considerably more leeway; it is (generally) less of a "concentrated essence", to use Lovecraft's phrase. Poetry, on the other hand, by being keenly aware of the nuances and resonances of the words and phrases used, can (again, at its best) touch with a more delicate yet precise hand the breadth of emotions prose can, but it does so in more concentrated form, with more of the blending of allied and paradoxical emotional responses. As a very simple example, I tnink of one of my favorites from Poe's poetry, the final stanza of "Spirits of the Dead":

The breeze -- the breath of God -- is still;
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy -- shadowy -- yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token --
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

The range of thoughts and emotions addressed here is really quite breathtaking, evoking the numinous, the eerie, the unknown; the fear and fascination of death and the possible realms beyond; the imagery of innumerable possibilities lying on the other side of that shadowy, misty threshold which transforms the familiar wood to something strange and new, yet inexpressibly old; the very idea that something so wondrous and strange is present that even God himself must needs pause at its presence, yet simultaneously the idea that we are, at that moment, in the very presence of the divine... and many, many others, all in the space of these few words.

The best of prose, of course, is descended from poetry, and has continued to adapt and utilize many poetic techniques to achieve its effects. This is what gives good prose its "music" and its ability to stir deep emotions simply by the use of words, often words we use every day. This is especially evident in older prose pieces, where both the structure and rhetoric is firmly based on older poetic models, often following the precepts set forth for the drama... itself a verse form.

There are other things I'd like to add; but at the moment I'm bushed, and about to nod off at my keyboard.... So, for the present, I'll just stop with these few thoughts....

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