Friday, 15 June 2012

BOOK REVIEW

The Haunted Hour: An Anthology
by Margaret Widdemer (1920)


This book review is offered as part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase. Hop over and check out the eclectic mix of reviews by other bloggers. It will be worth your while.

While I read poetry whenever I am in the mood for it, I have never read ghostly poetry, at least not in an anthology of poems and verses by more than sixty poets.

The Haunted Hour: An Anthology edited by Margaret Widdemer, the American poet and novelist (1884–1978), is a compilation of some very imaginative ghost-poems that are divided into eleven categories — The Nicht Atween the Sancts an' Souls, All the Little Sighing Souls, Shadowy Heroes, Rank on Rank of Ghostly Soldiers, Sea Ghosts, Cheerful Spirits, Haunted Places, You Know the Old, While I Know the New, My Love That Was So True, 
Shapes of Doom, and Legends and Ballads of the Dead.

Several names in the anthology are familiar to me. These include Rudyard Kipling, H.W. Longfellow, Walter by De La Mare, Christina Rossetti, Sir Edwin Arnold, Katharine Tynan, William Butler Yeats, and Sir Walter Scott.

Bret Harte, whom I know to be a writer and not a poet (my ignorance), chips in with Newport Romance, a rather longish but quite an enjoyable poem.

Then there are six poems by Theodosia Garrison, American poet and author, whose poem The Neighbours I liked very much. It goes...
 

At first cock-crow
The ghosts must go
Back to their quiet graves below.

I have read Garrison's poetry before but not her prose. More than anything else, I remember Garrison for her very quotable quote — "The hardest habit of all to break is the terrible habit of happiness." Never break that habit.

A few more poets ring a distant bell and I might have read their poems in passing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading their long and short verses, at least the ones I could comprehend. It’s not always easy to understand poetry.

Coming back to Margaret Widdemer, there isn't a lot about her on the internet. According to Wikipedia, in 1919, she won the Columbia University Prize for Poetry (now the Pulitzer Prize) for her collection The Old Road to Paradise (1918), a prize she shared with Carl Sandburg, fellow writer, editor and poet, for his collection of poems titled Corn Huskers.

Widdemer established her credentials as a poet with her first poem The Factories (1917) that looked at the sensitive issue of child labour. In her memoir Golden Years I Had (1964), she recounts her friendships with Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Thornton Wilder, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her essay Message and Middlebrow, published in Review of Literature in 1933, apparently popularised the term "middlebrow" which means "Someone who is neither a highbrow nor a lowbrow."

Margaret Widdemer, who lived until 94, was a prolific writer as is evident from her forty novels that included The Rose-Garden Husband and Why Not?, nine poetry collections, nine children's fiction, two books on writing titled Do You Want to Write? and Basic Principles of Fiction Writing, and three memoirs, namely Golden Friends I Had, Summers at the Colony, and Jessie Rittenhouse: A Centenary Memoir-Anthology.

Her first two novels, The Rose-Garden Husband (1915) and Why Not? (1916), were made into films — the 1917-film A Wife on Trial and the 1918-film A Dream Lady, respectively. 

I am no critic of poetry. I only enjoy reading poems. The purpose of writing about this (forgotten) book is to bring it to the reader's notice. I will, therefore, leave you with Margaret Widdemer’s brief preface to The Haunted Hour: An Anthology. It reads as follows... 

“This does not attempt to be an inclusive anthology. The ghostly poetry of the late war alone would have made a book as large as this; and an inclusive scheme would have ended as a six-volume Encyclopedia of Ghostly Verse. I hope that this may be called for some day. The present book has been held to the conventional limits of the type of small anthology which may be read without weariness (I hope) by the exclusion not only of many long and dreary ghost-poems, but many others which it was very hard to leave out.

"I have not considered as ghost-poems anything but poems which related to the return of spirits to earth. Thus, ‘The Blessed Damozel,’ a poem of spirits in heaven, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci,’ whose heroine may be a fairy or witch, and whose ghosts are presented in dream only, do not belong in this classification; nor do such poems as Mathilde Blind's lovely sonnet, ‘The Dead Are Ever with Us,’ class as ghost-poems; for in these the dead are living in ourselves in a half-metaphorical sense. If a poem would be a ghost-story, in short, I have considered it a ghost-poem, not otherwise. In this connection I wish to thank Mabel Cleland Ludlum for her unwearied and intelligent assistance with the selection and compilation of the book; and Aline Kilmer for help in its revision and arrangement."


Margaret Widdemer

If you want to learn more about Margaret Widdemer, you can read the short essay titled Asbury Park Life: Stimulus for Author by Peter Lucia.

Note: The preface is courtesy Project Gutenberg Ebook

10 comments:

  1. That's a terrific choice Prashant, I've never read anything by Widdemer but she sounds fascinating. Thanks for pointing to a for me very intriguing direction. Now all I need to find is the time to read all these fascinating books and authors I hear about every Friday!

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  2. I read this one several years ago, Prashant, and enjoyed it very much. There are several other good anthologies of fantastic poety out there. I recommend August Derleth's DARK OF THE MOON and FIRE AND SLEET AND CANDLELIGHT. Stanton A. Coblentz's UNSEEN WINGS is also a good collection, although a bit more metaphysical.

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  3. This was enlightening! Unusual and intriguing choice. Weird Tales is the only publication I know of that consistently published poetry of a ghostly and fantastic nature. Over the course of the magazine's bumpy life the poems were phased out. I used to skip over them, but when I did my Bradbury piece I read both poems in the WT issue with "the Smiling People." One of them was very similar to the one you quote by Theodosia Garrison. I'd pull out the magazine and quote a passage but I'm not at home now.

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  4. I've loved haunted poetry for a long time, after being introduced to Poe.

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  5. Prashant, what an excellent choice for FBF. I'd never read any of Widdemer's poetry, though I'm familiar with the work of other poets you named.

    This anthology sounds like something I might like to add to my small poetry collection. Thanks for introducing it to me. It really does sound fascinating.

    And thanks for the link to Widdemer.

    As Nero Wolfe says: the more you put in your brain (if you have one), the more it will take. :)

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  6. Sergio, I had never read Widdemer myself until I came across this anthology. I liked her poems and I am sure her prose is "fascinating" too. Good thing her books are available online.

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  7. Jerry, thanks very much for writing. I like reading poetry occasionally — it relieves stress. Thanks for the recommendations too. I haven't read too many anthologies of any kind but I'll keep an eye out for the poetry collections you mention.

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  8. Thank you, John. The anthology was enlightening for it introduced me to many poets I hadn't heard of. I think I have read a few poems from the early issues of WEIRD TALES some of which I have downloaded. I'll have to pay more attention to such poems. Garrison is a fascinating poet and I was glad to find several poems by her in this anthology.

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  9. Charles, you'd be the right person to enjoy ghost-poems since you know the genre so well. I have been thinking of reading Poe in succession for a while now, though, I find the task rather daunting.

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  10. Yvette, thanks very much for the appreciation. The anthology has an unusual mix of poetry even if they are all haunted poems. I still have to read some of the poems, having discovered the ebook just three days before FFB. But then poetry is immortal — you can read it anywhere, anythimg.

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