It’s the birthday of American poet and critic Louise Bogan (books by this author). Bogan. W.H. Auden thought she was the best critic of poetry in America and gave the eulogy at her funeral.
Bogan was born in Livermore Falls, Maine (1897). As an adult, she lived in Vienna for three years and then moved to New York City, where she fell in with fellow writers William Carlos Williams, Malcolm Cowley, and Edmund Wilson. She worked in a bookstore with Margaret Mead, who would later find fame as a cultural anthropologist. It was Wilson who suggested she start writing reviews to make money. Her reviews were terse, astute, and sometimes very funny. About poets Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens, she said: “They will never surprise anyone again…They are half-dead already.” She became the poetry editor of The New Yorker in 1931.
She was intensely private and most of her friends didn’t even know she had a daughter from her first marriage. In the 1930s, she had a brief, raucous affair with the poet Theodore Roethke. In a letter to a friend, she wrote: “I, myself, have been made to bloom like a Persian rose-bush, by the enormous love-making of a cross between a Brandenburger and a Pomeranian, one Theodore Roethke by name. He is very, very large (6 ft. 2 and weighing 218 lbs.) and he writes very, very small lyrics…We have poured rivers of liquor down our throats, these last three days, and, in between, have indulged in such bearish and St. Bernardish antics as I have never before experienced. ... I hope that one or two immortal lyrics will come out of all this tumbling about.” They remained dear friends after the affair ended.
Bogan’s New Yorker reviews are collected in the book A Poet’s Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art and Vocation (1970).