“THEY ARE FIXED AND FINISHED. They will never surprise anyone again,” wrote the poet Louise Bogan in a letter of September 9, 1941 to Morton Dauwen Zabel, the critic and sometime editor of Poetry magazine. Bogan was referring to Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore, but she could just as well have been talking about the other great modernist poets who published their most important works in the period between the wars—T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams. All of these poets continued to write, of course, in the postwar years, and their work was given close attention, as befits the work of classic figures. But for all of them their period of artistic innovation was clearly over, and Bogan was certainly right in that respect. What she hadn’t anticipated, perhaps, was the extent to which they would continue to dominate the literary scene, for nearly all of them would be repeatedly...


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