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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....

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: MesMorial (IP Logged)
Date: 28 March, 2012 04:17AM
I am not familiar with Vance, Merrit, or Fanu (not really Hodgson).

In regards to poets, I think Byron's the best. Keats is good though. I prefer to read George Sterling and CAS (or their style), though I wouldn't consider them to be as skilled

As for the writers in that list, here is my order of preference:


Clark Aston Smith
Lord Dunsany
H.P Lovecraft
E.A Poe
Algernon Blackwood
Arthur Machen
M.R. James

Shakespeare was probably skilled, but I find him (for the greater part) uninteresting.


I find Clark Ashton Smith most colourful, engaging and enchanting, whilst Dunsany is lyrical. Lovecraft's characters are stilted and uninteresting (except for Pickman), so he might be next to or below Poe. I have to read more of Machen (started "The Hill of Dreams").

[www.youtube.com]



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 28 Mar 12 | 04:20AM by MesMorial.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 28 March, 2012 07:46AM
The real distinction, to me, is not between poetry and prose, but between poetry and non-poetry. Not all poetry need be written in verse. This notion goes back at least to the Bible, and is echoed in Shelley's Defence of Poetry, a text still very much worth reading today, for those of you who don't know it. Not all verse is poetry, and not all that claims to be poetry is poetry, at all. To me, a paragraph of Sir Thomas Browne is more poetic than the collected works of Eliot, Pound, and Williams.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 28 March, 2012 09:41AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> 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.
I would like to respond to a number of items here, but as regards the relationship between poetry and Prose:
I recommend reading my old friend John Ciardi's excellent "How does a poem mean" - I will freely grant that the power and majesty of epic poetry will not just fall out of the sky into one's understanding or appreciation - however, having done the work (and lots of it) to get it is rewarding in a quite different way than prose, and indeed, is, generally, an elevated form of speech - It would be rare indeed to be able to gather a crowd for an evening of "Prose Reading" -
As to CAS' assessment of Poe as a poet - his own work is far better than Poe, but Poe introduced him to the possibility of meaning through sound and rhythym - it was his short stories that piqued his interest in story writing, and he did a good deal of that first - his earliest efforts at poetry were trivial by comparison -
see "Sword of Zagan" - as to the "master" always out-weighing the disciple - hardly -
in the last analysis, each writer gives pleasure to some - time and history make the judgments I suppose -

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 28 March, 2012 10:05AM
Of course, masters do not always outrank their disciples, but that's not what I wrote.

As for Poe versus CAS, it's all a matter of taste. As I recall, though, CAS rhapsodizes in his George Sterling memoir about his discovery of Poe's verse at the age of thirteen or so, not his prose. While CAS's verse is more polished and consistent--not without reason, since CAS lived much longer than Poe--Poe at his most memorable far outstrips CAS as a poet. Again, de gustibus, of course.

As an aside, and before bowing out of this discussion, I can't help mentioning Julien Gracq's cynical but all-too-accurate observation: "Literature was the last of the arts to appear. It will be the first to disappear". To this, I would add that poetry was the first of the verbal arts to appear, and it has already all but disappeared. It is easy to name the usual suspects in this particular crime, but it is a shame to see such persons as Knygatin twisting the knife, as well. When individuals such as he cannot see the value of poetry in verse, and when other contributors here devalue the likes of Shakespeare and Milton, then that particular corpse must be cold, indeed. Let in lie in peace, then, and enjoy your little stories.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: MesMorial (IP Logged)
Date: 28 March, 2012 09:42PM
“Poetry” and “poems” are different things, and yet the same.

“Poems” are what poetry traditionally gets used for. Poetry is like clay. The poem is the pot that we make FROM the clay. Depending upon its use, it can be formed differently.

Poetry is essentially the way that we see things, although it is recognised by “empowering meaning” through external inspiration. Poetry is in our thoughts and what we see, it is in our thoughts and what we hear, etc.. Since nothing has meaning except what we give it, we can basically “change” the meaning of something (e.g. money) and thus control our priorities and our behaviour. If we know what we are, we can live life meaningfully (i.e. live a life that satisfies/fulfils our actual nature, without contaminating excess). All that is the power of poetry.

Prose bereft of poetry is practical or pointless.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 29 March, 2012 02:27PM
Thank you jdworth for your most generous post. Enlightening. I treasure it.

Thank you also MesMorial for your saviour post, lucidly describing what should simply be obvious: the poetry in prose. I can go on ejoying prose undaunted now.

Thank you also calonlan and Absquatch, for book recommendation and interesting thoughts. In England it is not so uncommon with "Prose Readings" of Arthur Machen's works, for example.



Alas... I spent considerable time writing a long post in sections. With much more evolved comments, and thoughts. But when about to post it, I touched the wrong buttons and the whole text irretrievably disappeared, not having saved it soon enough. Good Grief! I have no energy to rewrite it. I only feel miserable right now. Perhaps I'll come back later, if some of the thoughts return to me. Maybe this was a sign from God that I should be using my time differently than hanging over the computor.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 29 March, 2012 10:19PM
What is being referred to in several of the posts here, I believe, is at least very closely allied to what Poe called the "Poetic Sentiment", which he indeed noted (in "The Poetic Principle") could be developed in any of the arts; in poetry in the usual sense (i.e., verse), he has labeled it as "the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty"... but, yes, it is pervasive in the best prose, as well. One sees a great deal of it in CAS and in Lovecraft, who was a great lover of poetry (though not always of the highest or best poets, as can be seen from his liking for Alan Seeger or -- more excusably -- Thomas Moore, who also incidentally elicited a fair number of favorable comments from Poe); but there are many others where it is strongly evident, from de la Mare (who also wrote some fine verse), Machen, Hawthorne, a fair amount of Ligotti (especially the pieces in The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein), as well as numerous others. Even with writers who are not, by and large, to be thought of in that connection, there are passages or entire pieces to which this idea would apply....

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: MesMorial (IP Logged)
Date: 30 March, 2012 05:13AM
Dear Knygatin;

You are always welcome :)

In such an unfortunate circumstance, I would most probably write a poem.

As for applying the "God" concept to it, that is an example of using one thing to inspire another thought (like poetry). If we have an idea of what is "good" (or "better"), we will compare everything to it.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: asmithson (IP Logged)
Date: 23 April, 2012 10:44AM
I think that majority of the lay would probably be inclined to Shakespeare but there is something with the more known writers that make me despise them. Well, it is not something totally of great hate but there is something that makes me dislike their work, or rather choose something that is not as well known but you surely know would have that great and lasting punch.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 23 April, 2012 01:21PM
asmithson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> there is something
> with the more known writers that make me despise
> them.

It is not something about them; it is something about you---it is called snobbery.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Gill Avila (IP Logged)
Date: 23 April, 2012 09:34PM
It's probably not so much a feeling of snobbery as much as it is a sense 0f "asmithson"s own inherent worthlessness, the knowledge that seven days after he's dead people will have a difficult time proving--or caring--that he ever actually lived.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 24 April, 2012 04:12PM
I would be hesitant to make either assumption; too close to armchair analyzing for my taste. There can be many reasons why a person feels this way... I've got a touch of it myself; most people I've encountered do. The causes can range from those posited above to genuinely finding the more obscure writers to one's taste, in that the way they express something more often strikes a chord than the better-known writers. It can also be a reluctance to "go with the herd", a distrust of popular opinion, even among the knowledgeable.

Whatever it is, I personally would say it is a limiting factor which prevents genuine appreciation of some of the finest talent in history, and is something I tend to challenge when I encounter it in myself, to try to see whether it is an unreasoning prejudice or whether there is a genuine basis for such a reaction, either in my own aesthetic or more general terms. But, as the old adage has it, to each his own....

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Jojo Lapin X (IP Logged)
Date: 24 April, 2012 04:37PM
Whereas there are current things that are popular but nevertheless garbage, something that has remained popular for centuries is typically really good.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: cguitar (IP Logged)
Date: 29 April, 2012 09:57PM
With the discussion between De la Mare and Poe, in as much as Poe has been appreciated and very well done with the work, the ability of De la Mare to include, even on a very subtle sense, delicate music is far beyond what Poe is probably capable of.

Though I still admire what Poe had done and I just think that the other appeals to my personal preference and probably a few others here, more.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 17 March, 2014 04:13PM
Absquatch Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> but it is a shame to see such
> persons as Knygatin twisting the knife, as well.
> When individuals such as he cannot see the value
> of poetry in verse, and when other contributors
> here devalue the likes of Shakespeare and Milton,
> then that particular corpse must be cold, indeed.
> Let in lie in peace, then, and enjoy your little
> stories.


"... enjoy your little stories."

That last remark has haunted me ever since I first read it. I simply couldn't come to terms with it. Unable to integrate it with Absquatch's clear statement of 28 March, 2012 06:46AM, further up in the thread.

"... little stories."

It hurts.

Standing before my cherished books, I have been filled with doubts. Have I missed something? Am I deluded? Like someone blinded to the quality of the color tones in his surrounding, from lack of comparative contrast. Wasting my time in less than optimal worth? Is prose a diluted and inferior literary form, or for that matter, an inferior art form?

We know that CAS didn't think as highly of prose as of poetry, but he may have re-evaluated that later when he discovered the magical possibilities of prose. I think Dr. Farmer has said, that CAS wrote prose for the money. Otherwise he would have written verse exclusively. To me that sounds strange, and hard to believe.

Did someone like Poe write his prose only as a compromise? As an artistically sacrificial way of reaching out to a wider audience?

I believe I understand now what it is that has given me a sense of stumbling insecurity or bad conscience over the stories accumulated on my book shelves. I feel that too much of my time has been wasted away in reading preliminary build-ups before arriving at the quintessential essences of beauty or weirdness at the core of the stories. The very best stories are equally worthwhile from start to finish, and saturated with meaning from first page to the last. But much of my reading matter has honestly not been that way. There has been a large percentage of pages with obligatory transport drama build-up, that I have forced my way through, to get to the good parts. On the other hand, verse could never replace prose, for the integrated complex multiple parts of those quintessential essences once reached. Verse and prose have different uses.

One relief I have come to accept however, is that once a story has been read a first time, when coming back to it, I don't have to re-read all of it or the drama build-up, but can go directly to the quintessential essences and linger over them much like one does over verse.

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 17 March, 2014 04:46PM
No, CAS didn't alter that evaluation; he essentially gave up prose writing following that productive period of the 1920s-30s, after that writing only occasional tales; verse he never stopped writing.

Poe? Look at his essays and letters -- he said repeatedly that he vastly preferred verse over prose, and certainly his abilities as a poet show how just that preference was, as he remains one of the greatest (not to mention most influential, even influencing T. S. Eliot in "The Waste Land") poets America has ever produced.

While it true that each has its place, one of the reasons verse is seen as a superior form (think, for instance, of the use of the word "prosy" to describe someone of more mundane, prosaic mold) is that poetry by its essence tends toward more subtlety and concentration; prose dilutes that effect in most instances. To use one of my personal favorites from CAS's verse, think of "Medusa", where he describes the victims of the gorgon scattered around the head:

"... As round an altar base,
Her victims lie, distorted, blackened forms
Of postured horror smitten into stone --
Time caught in meshes of Eternity --
Drawn back from dust and ruin of the years,
And given to all the future of the world."

That little bit, particularly the line "Time caught in meshes of Eternity", which I think is one of the finest lines Smith ever wrote, in fact one of the finest in all modern verse, is something which simply could not be captured in prose with such intensity and brevity. Poetry is the essence; prose is the diluted product.

This is not to say you can't have fine prose, as a number of writers had and do; but it can never really approach that incisive yet multifaceted quality which poetry -- not versified prose, as one so often encounters with, say, many of the eighteenth-century figures, and the vast majority of modern verse -- has as its very heart.

Funny me saying all this, given that, save for a very few pieces (largely by Poe), I was never much of one for poetry until I was almost an adult; since then, my admiration for the art has grown tremendously, and continues to do so the more of it I encounter....

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 19 March, 2014 06:21PM
My list is:

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

Shakespeare (I know him, but never have read anything by him though I have his books of sonnets)
John Keats (I know the name, never have read anything by him)
Jack Vance (frankly, I have never heard of him)

My personal list would be:

W.H.Hodgson
M.P.Shiel
Arthur Machen
Algernon Blackwood
Maurice Level
John Metcalfe
Leonard Cline
Samuel Warren
C.A.Smith
H.P.Lovecraft

Re: Who is the greatest writer?
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 12 May, 2014 05:59PM
this is a fascinating thread - just to stir the pot a little - I would add what I think may be the finest prose work of the 20t century - Mary Webb's "Precious Bane" - try it,you'll like it - and learn an easy cheap way to get rid of Grandma



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