ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
A.) Ezra Pound
Pound would make the tournament on his promotional and editorial skills alone, his crucial influence on the work and careers of several of the greatest writers ever– among them James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and T.S. Eliot. But Ezra Pound was also an important poet in his own right who helped create modernist poetry (and modernist literature period); doing more things with the poetic art, via allusions and wordplay, than any American poet had done before. (A throwback to Shakespeare in that regard.)
B.) Sylvia Plath
Both of us at New Pop Lit regard Sylvia Plath’s work as the apex of poetic achievement. As intent a student of the art who ever lived, imbibing every available influence, acquiring every tool in the poet’s toolbox– and using them. Examples are in the poems themselves. We also have Plath’s recorded readings, which are dynamite. A transformative experience for the listener– showing just how powerful poetry can be.
As added bonus, Sylvia Plath also wrote an extremely powerful novel, The Bell Jar, which more than holds its own against other novels present and past when read today.
C.) William Faulkner.
The godfather of Southern Gothic– complicated plots of murders and rapes, incest and inheritances, set in the decaying world of white trash ogres, crumbling mansions, and Southern mud. Aristocrats and sharecroppers; rich and poor. The prose is as convoluted as the plotting– for an involving read the novels of William Faulkner have seldom been topped. For sheer luridness, and one would think, offensiveness, Sanctuary rests high on the objectionable list. But is it art? Maybe not, but among American writers Faulkner is impossible to overlook.
D.) John Steinbeck
THE definitive American writer of the 1930’s– take that for what you will. His big novel during the decade was The Grapes of Wrath— but Cannery Row and In Dubious Battle might be, in the long run, more important. Steinbeck is underrated by literary critics in part because his prose is (usually) so simple– which we see as an asset. Steinbeck’s work remains accessible to all readers. Like Frank Capra or Aaron Copland in their fields, John Steinbeck had the ability to capture the feel, the texture, the sound of the American people and the American land.