(Ed. note: This is Part II of Chester Johnson's series about Henri Faust. You can read Part I here.)
Around the same time, across the Big Muddy, another poet and writer of about the same age as Spencer didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the appellation of “poet” or “writer.” While Spencer was representing Drew County in the Arkansas legislature during the early 1920s, William Faulkner, future griot of the Delta and permutated poet, held the only civilian public service office he appears to have ever had – postmaster for the University of Mississippi – a position from which, after a couple of years, he would be summarily fired for drinking and writing on the job, for cronyism and for often simply throwing away pieces of mail.
Faulkner, artist and quintessential observer, apparently had no desire whatsoever to be party to the power fulcrum; Spencer would, on the other hand, exhibit a commitment to public service throughout his life, though reconciliation between the artistic life and a pragmatic, political one proved uneasy, to wit: Henri Faust.
A reader of poetry is always tempted to understand a poem from the perceived stylistic influences on the poet that occurred at the time of the poem’s creation, in order to put the particular verse in some kind of apprehended, but not always accurate context – for one can become overzealous in and overreliant on this seemingly logical pattern of examining a poet’s work; a good poet is normally not as predictable as we anticipate her or him to be. Notwithstanding the limitations of this approach, by probing Spencer’s verse in Half-Light and Overtones, it becomes apparent from both the work itself and other information that the Fugitives and related Southern Agrarian poets, the especially talented bevy of literati then present at Vanderbilt, influenced his poetry, both in style and theme. John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren were several of the better known and more important members of the group, which defended formal structures in poetry and agrarian values against industrialization – the latter frequently creating poetic themes of farmland and nature. A quatrain of the poem, “Entreaty Of The Dark Lover,” from Spencer’s Yale prize volume illustrates the canon. It is helpful to know that the poem plays against a backdrop of momentary solitude in nature.
“Enter into my dark where all of sound
Exists within the sepulchers of mind,
Reverberate, and infinitely winds
Its music where the plangent quiet is found.”
Here, Spencer, of course, complies with the traditional form of iambic pentameter for all four lines and a regular heavy rhyme scheme at the endings for the first and fourth lines. The rest of the five quatrain poem is so ordered. The Fugitives would have been proud.
The Nashville poets gave Spencer advocacy and encouragement. For example, Donald Davidson said of Spencer in the Nashville Tennessean, with a slightly mocking tone, but with reassuring humor for the young poet, “We have just learned that a poet has been elected to the Arkansas legislature, and a good poet he is. Does the Arkansas citizenry know that he writes poetry?” In addition, The Fugitive, literary journal of the Vanderbilt group, published several of Spencer’s poems.
to be continued . . .