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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 20, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

MALCOLM COWLEY: The Formative Years by Hans Bak (University of Georgia Press: $34.95; 626 pp.). In the epilogue to this first volume of a projected two-part biography, Hans Bak calls Malcolm Cowley "the Boswell of his generation," meaning those writers who came of age in the 1920s and soon thereafter. He argues his case indirectly but fairly well--mainly because he makes clear that Cowley had a "chameleonic inclination to adopt the sheltering colors of his environment." Though Cowley was best known, early on, as a poet and champion of modernism, in many ways he seems a creature of fashion, always managing to show up where the literary action happened to be. Cowley's good timing can be misread, however, for he usually played the role of observer rather than that of hanger-on, getting caught up in Dadaism and avant-garde magazines less from a need to belong than an overwhelming desire to construct a sturdy literary creed. Bak's subsequent work on Cowley is sure to hold equally engaging anecdotes--Cowley lived until 1989, and wrote profusely until his death--but one hopes his publisher has already made plans to produce a slightly more abridged version.

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