mense, and deliberate derangement ofnall the senses.” Plath’s poetry was a kindnof fever chart which traced the course ofnher own psychic dissolution, and Sexton’snmorbid concern with drugs, abortion,nsuicide, and menstruation showed theninfluence of an unstable master upon hisnapprentices, who seemed to be asking,nin lines from one of Lowell’s last poems,n”Sufferer, how can you help me,/ if I usenyour sickness/ to increase my own?” Or,nas Lowell wrote of the deaths of his parents,n”not until death parts us,/ will I stopnsucking my blood from their hurt.”nEven so, the great-great nephew ofnJames Russell Lowell and the distantncousin of Amy Lowell managed oftennenough to escape from his madness andnthe social chaos of the friends and poetastersnwho clung to him by writing poetrynthat remains hauntingly fresh and evocative.nDrawing upon his New Englandnheritage and his Catholicism, he developedna poetry characterized by stylisticnboldness, disciplined and exquisitenlanguage, delicate balance of form andncontent, and, unfortunately, angry confessionalism.nPoems such as “Colloquynin Black Rock,” “The Quaker Graveyardnin Nantucket,” “Falling Asleep over thenAeneid,” “Sailing Home from Rapallo,”n”Skunk Hour,” “For the Union Dead,”nand a dozen others will become minornclassics. On the other hand, some of hisnwork is marked by excessive rhetoric,noverly ripe introspection, and a compulsionnto resolve in poetry his own conflictsnand those of a world caught in itsnown political and materialistic madness.nLoweU and his literary friends werenanother lost generation. DelmorenSchwartz, Randall Jarrell, and JohnnBerryman saw themselves at odds withntheir culture, but they also craved all ofnthe material pleasures that it offered tonthem. Cut adrift from any spiritual resourcesnand uncertain about what theynreaUy wanted, they seemed, in Berryman’snphrase, to be “cross with god whonhas wrecked this generation.” Or, asnEileen Simpson, Berryman’s widow, remindsnus in her recent Poets in TheirnYouth, “They would recite one another’snS6inChronicles of Cultarenpoems and talk for hours on end, free atnlast of the worldly concerns about vdierenthe next advance, the next drink, thennext gfrl or even the next inspfrationnwould come from—free at last to benobsessed with poetry.” Thefr geniusesnwere freed, but to what end? It’s hard tonsay.nVJenius such as LoweU’s—^as weU asnthat of more stable people—continuesnto fascinate us. “Great wits,” Drydennonce wrote, “are sure to madness nearnallied,/And their partitions do theirnbounds divide.” In Search of Genius, bynWiUiam Fifleld, a novelist and formernHoUywood screenwriter, makes one believenthat Dryden wasn’t far wrong. Thisnbook purports to be a series of “intimatenconversations” over a dozen years betweennFifield and contemporary artistsnincluding Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau,nJean Giono, Joan Mfro, Robert Graves,nRoberto Rossellini, Salvador Dali, MarcnChagall, Jean Lurcat, and Marcel Marceau.nRambling, redundant, at times almost incoherent,nand unfailingly egocentric,nthese exchanges swirl in and out of focusnlike wisps of smoke. Occasional perceptivenobservations about art and geniusnsink under the weight of word-mongeringnand artistic posturing. As Fifield admits,n”artists are very unreliable informantsnon their art, there being concealment,nintentional distortion for manifoldnreasons, the interaction of the artworknand the man.”nFifield doesn’t help clarify things. Insteadnof a reasoned and orderly inquiryninto the sources, characteristics, and usesnof genius, he provides a loose series ofnnasty backbitings and stagy commentsnwhich may cater to a taste for the sensationalnbut which leave little to stimulatenthe mind. Shakespeare’s phrase from thenfirst part of Henry IV best describesnFifleld’s conversations: “bald unjointednchat.” Cocteau, for example, tartly remarksnthat the qualities of genius aren”egotism, cruelty, anguish at humanncontacts, disinterestedness, amorality, anviolent taste for the pleasures of thenearth,” an observation that should sur­nnnprise no one who has observed our presentnart and literature. Dali humbly observesnthat “Genius is Dali,” and Picassonsays that genius is “individuality plusntwo sous of talent.” Giono tries to cutnHemingway and Americans down to hisnown size: “He was not a novelist; he wasna journalist. But Americans cannot appreciatenthe romanesque as they havenno culture. Literature is a cultural expression,nwhich therefore Americansncaimot understand.” And Robert Gravesndismisses one of the greatest poets innthe English language by saying thatn”Milton’s poetry is constipated.”nFifield’s collection may lead the unwaryninto believing that genius is characterizednby jealousy, bitterness, egotism,nxenophobia, sexual kinkiness, ignorance,nalcoholism, political naivete, and evenncriminality. While one or more of thesentraits may be found in a genius of anynperiod or culture, there have always beennmore common characteristics, namely ancommitment to society and a determinationnto look behind the surface of things,nas weU as the ability to create and communicate.nOutrageous behavior, as withnNorman Mailer, or sociopolitical sensationalism,na la Ralph Nader, is not thenmark of a genius; it is merely the sign of anposeur.nThose who label themselves as geniuses,nor aUow their groupies to do it fornthem, are enthusiasts in the 18th-centurynsense, claiming to have a special religious,nsocial, or political vision denied to anyonenoutside their narrow group. Thesenwere the people that Swift satfrized andnparodied so brilliantly in^ Tale of a Tub,nthose hacks and religious hypocritesnwho, like Fifield’s subjects, burble onnand on about themselves, each thinkingnlike Swift’s madman that it is in his “powernto reduce the notions of aU mankind exactlynto the same length, and breadth,nand height of his own.”nAnalyzing genius is irustrating. Wenknow it when we see it in a RobertnLowell, but we can’t explain it. About allnwe can do is believe, with Keats, thatn”works of genius are the first things innthis world.” nn