The first biography of Crane to appear in thirty years, The Broken Tower reads with all the drama of a psychological novel and the inexorable force of a Greek tragedy.
Few poets have lived as extraordinary and fascinating a life as Hart Crane, the American poet who made his meteoric rise in the late 1920s and then as suddenly flamed out, killing himself at the age of thirty-two and thus turning his life and poetry into the stuff of myth. Illustrations and photographs
In addition to several volumes of poetry, Paul Mariani has also written biographies of major 20th-century American poets: William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman. In his fourth biography, he takes on the life of Hart Crane (1899-1932), a contemporary of Williams who held a similarly pivotal role in the development of American literature's avant-garde. "It would be difficult," Mariani suggests, "to find a serious poet or reader of poetry in this country today who has not been touched by something in Hart Crane's music." (However, at the time, many critics--with some of whom he had strained personal relationships--did not evaluate his work so highly, which contributed in part to Crane's dramatic suicidal leap off a ship at sea.) Crane loved New York, moving there from his hometown of Cleveland as soon as he could; even when financial straits forced him to return home to work for his father, the "white buildings" of Manhattan loomed in his imagination. The Broken Tower does a fine job of recreating the passionate energy and vitality of Crane's life. Mariani weaves lines from Crane's letters and poems into his narrative throughout, and while he does not skimp in his accounts of the poet's alcoholism and promiscuous sex life with other men, he treats these matters simply as components of the poet's complex personality.