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Louis Simpson dies at 89; Pulitzer-winning poet

Simpson analyzed the American dream in spare poems about war, infidelity and suburban alienation. His 'At the End of the Open Road' won the Pulitzer in 1964.

September 23, 2012|By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

Simpson survived the wasteland, producing more than 18 volumes of poetry, including "Searching for the Ox" (1976), "In the Room We Share" (1990), "The Owner of the House" (2003), and "Struggling Times" (2009).

He also wrote a novel, critical studies of poets such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg, and autobiographical works, including "North of Jamaica" (1972) and "The King My Father's Wreck" (1995).

Widely anthologized in the 1960s and '70s, his work was noticeably absent from some later surveys, omissions that Jarman speculated may have had more to do with Simpson's acerbic personality than the quality of his writing. He did not suffer fools, especially not fellow poets and poetry editors.

"Louis could dress you down in a rather scathing way you never forgot," observed Jarman, who was stung by Simpson's criticisms on more than one occasion. "He took poetry seriously. People like that need to be valued, no matter how prickly they are."

"Popular taste," said Whitman

"will be taking precedence

in the arts." The old man seems

to have thought that people

would be avidly reading

the poetry of Walt Whitman.

I'm sorry, Walt, but the public

these days doesn't read anything.

The public watches TV.

That's all right by me.

Popularity out of the way,

we can get on with art…

elaine.woo@latimes.com

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