In 1844, Ralph Waldo Emerson called for a new poet who would reflect the spirit and potential of America. In 1855, a then-unknown poet named Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass, his attempt to fulfill Emerson’s wish. In this episode, Jacke looks at Whitman’s early life and career, contrasting Leaves of Grass with the works of a pair of poets that Emerson may have had in mind when he railed against “men of poetical talents…of industry and skill in meter” who nevertheless failed to be what Emerson called “true poets.”
In our last look at Søren Kierkegaard, we left our hero after he had just left the love of his life, Regine Olsen, in favor of a life devoted to God and philosophy. In this episode, Jacke looks at one of the great products of that seismic schism: Fear and Trembling, or Kierkegaard’s analysis of God’s command that Abraham should sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. How does Abraham’s decision fit into moral and ethical principles? And if it doesn’t fit, what does that mean for our society – or for Christianity itself?
Do not go gentle into this good episode! Rage, rage against the dying of the… well, things fall apart there, don’t they? (Because we’re not gifted poets like Dylan Thomas!) In this episode, Jacke talks to producer, playwright, and performer Scott Carter about his lifelong passion for the Welsh bard who took the U.K. by storm in the mid-twentieth-century and America by even stormier storm soon thereafter. Which poems are best? What’s good about them? How did they feed into the mythic reputation of Dylan Thomas? And what does it all mean for us today?
Novelist Beverly Gologorsky joins Jacke for a discussion of the tumultuous years from 1967 to 1971, which provides the background for her new novel. In Can You See the Wind?, a working-class family in the Bronx struggles to make a better world, even as the world spins into chaos.
Columbia professor (and friend of the podcast) Farah Jasmine Griffin says “Beverly Gologorsky brings a clarity of vision and purpose to this extraordinary novel—a story about the complexities and love that both bring families, lovers and comrades together and tears them apart. Can You See the Wind? renders the urgency of political movements as well as moments of individual contemplation. That she does so in breathtaking prose is a testament to her brilliance and artistry.”
The nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is well known as the father of existentialism and one of the great Christian thinkers of all time. But it is in his relationship with Regine Olsen – his love for her, their brief engagement, and the horrible breakup, in which he left her for a life devoted to the pursuit of knowledge – where we see his true literary gifts. In this episode, Jacke looks at Kierkegaard’s life and writing, with a special focus on the agonizing relationship with a young woman that perhaps brought out his truest self.
Author Robin Hemley joins Jacke for a discussion of Kafka, writerly ambition, and his new novel Oblivion: An After Autobiography, which tells the story of a midlist author who finds himself in the posthumous world where authors fade from obscurity into the world of Oblivion…unless they can manage to write their way out.
After being given $700 in Spanish gold by some newspapers, a 25-year-old Stephen Crane set out for Florida, where he planned to travel by boat to Cuba and cover the impending Spanish-American War as a war correspondent. But the steamship he boarded capsized after hitting some sandbars, forcing Crane and 28 shipmates – most of them arms runners friendly to the Cuban insurrectionists – into lifeboats and head into the open sea. Crane was one of the last to leave, and he wound up sharing a dinghy with the ship’s captain and two others. While he didn’t get to cover the war, the story of the four men, who struggled for days to survive without being rescued, helped add to Crane’s growing literary fame. In this episode, Jacke explores (and reads in its entirety) the classic Stephen Crane story of shipwreck, “The Open Boat.”
Stephen Crane (1871-1900) lived fast, died young, and impressed everyone with his prose style and insight into the human condition. While he’s best known today for his novels The Red Badge of Courage and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (along with some classic short stories like “The Open Boat,” “the Blue Hotel,” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”), his literary fame during his life was supplemented by his notorious exploits. Shipwrecks, romance, scandal, and high-profile court cases – and he somehow also found time to befriend literary lions like H.G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad. In this episode, Jacke talks to Crane’s biographer Linda H. Davis, whose new book Badge of Courage: The Life of Stephen Crane goes deep into the life and mind of the man whose own powers of empathy made him a staple of twentieth-century bookshelves and syllabi.
Questioning the nature of the self is a standard trope in literature and one of the hallmarks of the Modernist movement. But no one pushed this to the extreme like Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). While the use of a pseudonym or two is common enough, Pessoa wrote poems as more than a hundred “heteronyms” (as he called them), giving many of them their own richly developed biographies, writing styles, and distinct subject matter. The wild cast of characters, who sometimes argued with one another and who occasionally inserted themselves into Pessoa’s life, fooled many literary critics into thinking that they were individual poets. Although Pessoa was nearly unknown when he died, he left behind a rich body of work to pore through and analyze – and a trunkful of his papers, gathered by later editors intoThe Book of Disquiet, has rendered him essential to a consideration of twentieth-century literature. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at the poet who exploded his self into literary fragments, only to find that he had filled a galaxy with stars.