OPINIONSrnA Poetic Vortexrnby James Scrutonrn”There is no more self-assured man than a had poet.”rn—Martialrn”^Tt^^-f-Crn^&i?-±3-*£rn^•M^Mrn•im^^zrn»4, *t»f ^ i_rf ^ d pirn^iSij’.t.-:;:!”rnThe Fading Smile: Poets in Boston,rnfrom Robert Frost to Robert Lowellrnto Sylvia Plath, 1955-1960rnby Peter DavisonrnNew York: Knopf; 346 pp., $24.00rnSometimes it seems as though everyonernwho was anyone in postwarrnAmerican poetry was attending, teachingrnat, or at least near Harvard in the 1950’s.rnThis impression is confirmed bv PeterrnDavison’s memoir: everone was. In ThernFading Smile, Davison offers glimpsesrninto this latter-day stateside Lost Generationrnof American poets, a casually—wernJames Scruton is Holmes Professor ofrnLiterature at Bethel College and thernauthor, most recently, of After thernChildren’s Hour (Cloverdale).rnmight even say coincidentally—linkedrngroup whose work would far outshinernand outlast that of their Beat counterpartsrnin San Francisco.rnDavison seems uniquely positionedrnfor such reflections. Arriving in Bostonrnin 1955 to serve as assistant to the editorrnat Harvard University Press, he publishedrnhis own earliest poems during this time,rnand later, at the Atlantic Monthly andrnelsewhere, had the opportunity to publishrnsome of the best known poets of ourrnera, inckiding Sylvia Plath, with whomrnhe had a brief romance in the summer ofrn1955. Davison was part of this crowd,rnthough not at its center; he was on fairlyrnclose personal terms with nearly all ofrnits members, yet—fortunately for thisrnbook—he could maintain a somewhatrnobjective distance from them. His recollectionsrnof that half-decade and his interviewsrnand correspondence since thenrnwith most of the key figures make for arnthoughtful, revealing, yet in many waysrnoddly vexing study.rnOne strength of the book lies in its focusrnon this mere five-year span—in Davison’srnview the critical turning point inrnmodern American poetry. Not onlyrnwere many poets on hand in Boston, butrnthey seemed to be part of a generationalrnshift. “Neady all of us had had in life tornstruggle with our fathers,” Davison writesrnof his fellows, “and now our fathers-inpoetryrnwere themselves dying.” Like thernbright, rebellious sons (and daughters)rnthey were, the younger writers consciouslyrnveered away from the forms,rnthemes, and tones of their elders in verse.rnOr was it conscious? Davison works itrnboth ways. He disparages the prevailingrn”confessional” mode among these poetsrnas “the need to prop poetry upon theirrnbleeding flesh, . . . to insist upon theirrn26/CHRONICLESrnrnrn