Turning in the Widening Gyre


I attended university back in the 1960s. Although I studied English (EngLangLit) I was careful with my credits and ended up with both a Major in English and a Minor in Comparative Literature. One of my professors was a young Frank Lentricchia: I have actually forgotten what the course was (could it have been W. B. Yeats?). Since I was graduating, I was searching around for a decent graduate program which would both accept me and give me enough money to pursue an advanced degree in English. One of the professors I received a recommendation from was Lentricchia. Interestingly, his path for me led to a college on Long Island (Stonybrook), not far from the train station to Manhattan. If I had gone that way, instead of the mid-west college (Washington University) I ended up in, how different would my life have been?

I was a rather naive kid from San Diego, adept at interpreting poetry, scarfing burritos, and surfing almost year-round. Los Angeles (UCLA) was a big change for me but it came at the time I was undergoing lots of big changes so it wasn’t too scary. Then after four years of L. A. I went to St. Louis where the sidewalks are rolled up at nine each night. I remember reading a guide book back then which indicated St. Louis reached it’s prime with the 1904 World’s Fair and it was downhill from then on.

From the bus going downtown in St. Louis I watched groups of men huddled around a fire in a fifty gallon drum; I saw tenement buildings, packs of starving dogs, boarded up windows with families huddled behind them. It was scary and clearly I wasn’t in L. A. anymore.


The ironic thing was, despite failing to complete my degree at Washington University, I did escape St. Louis and ended up in Northern New Jersey, just a short bus ride from Manhattan.

Years later I was reading a tome on Critical Terms for Literary Study and realized one of the authors was Frank Lentricchia, who was now a big name in American literature at Duke University. Imagine if my Kid had gone to Duke and also enjoyed Lentricchia as her professor … but she hated Duke. Now as I look into Lentricchia’s biography, I see that he graduated from Utica College and the Kid graduated from Hamilton College right up the street.

Ain’t life amazing?


But the current impetus for thinking about Frank Lentricchia was reading his novel, The Accidental Pallbearer. Although the references to places in the Utica area (especially Hamilton College) were probably the most exciting parts of the book for me, it still was a palpable thriller and I just might look into one or two of his other fiction titles.

For the record, here is a list of works taken from Wikipedia:

  • The Gaiety of Language : An Essay On The Radical Poetics Of W. B. Yeats And Wallace Stevens (1968)
  • Robert Frost: Modern Poetics and the Landscapes of Self (1975)
  • Robert Frost: A Bibliography, 1913 – 1974 (1976) with Melissa Christensen Lentricchia
  • After the New Criticism (1980)
  • Criticism and Social Change (1983)
  • Ariel and the Police: Michel Foucault, William James, Wallace Stevens (1989)
  • New Essays on White Noise (1991) editor, with Emory Elliot, on White Noise by Don DeLillo
  • Introducing Don DeLillo (1991) editor
  • The Edge of Night. A Confession (1994)
  • Modernist Quartet (1994)
  • Critical Terms for Literary Study (1995) with Thomas McLaughlin
  • Johnny Critelli, and The Knifemen (1996) novellas
  • The Music of the Inferno (1999) novel
  • Lucchesi and the Whale (2001)
  • Dissent from the Homeland: Essays After September 11 (2003) editor with Stanley Hauerwas
  • Close Reading (2003) editor with Andrew Dubois
  • Crimes of Art and Terror (2003) with Jody McAuliffe
  • The Book of Ruth (2005)
  • The Portable Lentricchia (2012)
  • The Accidental Pallbearer (2012)
  • The Dog Killer of Utica (2014)

By the way: I met Jesse Unruh at least once, one time at the Ontra Cafeteria in Los Angeles during the Pat Paulson presidential campaign. RIP Big Daddy.

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