Monday, February 8, 2010

Ernest Hemingway: Poetry Retrospective

When one reflects back on Ernest Hemingway – his persona, lifestyle, or his increasingly studied body of work, one does not think of ‘poet’. How could someone projecting so much machismo be a poet at heart? It is true, he is better known for his globe-trekking, gun-toting, deep sea fishing, and macho bull-fighting aficionado than his body of poetic works. First and foremost, he was a short story writer and novelist; but he did write poetry, both early and late in his writing career.

Without going into too much background or history into Hemingway’s early writing career, he first began writing articles in his Oak Park, IL high school yearbook, Tabula. After high school, he made his way down to Kansas City where he worked a short time covering the beat for the Kansas City Star. Scholars will say this was a very significant period of time for his writing career, learning his lean, hard narrative prose. Moving on to be the foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star Weekly, stationed in Paris, he continued his early writing career in the company of other Lost Generation writers in the Parisian caf├ęs, and taking holiday in Switzerland during ski season.


A few months later (July 1923, his first published work, Three Stories and Ten Poems was printed in Paris by Robert McAlmon. Only three hundred copies were originally printed, of which a few are available for purchase in today’s market. Not many collectors know, but six of the ten poems featured in TSTP were published in a small Chicago magazine almost six months before. Poetry – A Magazine of Verse was his first official publication as a poet – before he was known as a short story writer. The editor’s note in the back of the magazine describes Hemingway as a “young Chicago poet now abroad who will soon issue his first book of verse.”

By the end of Hem’s long writing career, it is known he had written at least 94 poems, of which only 25 were published during his lifetime. After his death, the chief scholars began collecting his poetry and posthumously published it within Literary Journals, hardcover collected works, and magazines. Surprisingly, at least 73 of the 94 poems were completed by 1929 when A Farewell to Arms came out. The best organized collection on the market these days came out in 1979 – Ernest Hemingway: 88 Poems, edited by Nicholas Gerogiannis. A nice collection in that the editor gives background into each poem, and chronologically orders them from written date.

These days, less emphasis is placed on Hemingway’s poetry, as less emphasis is placed on poetry in general. This does not detract from the fact that Hem chose to express himself not only in the short story, but also the poem. It takes neither study nor scholarship for one to read and appreciate Hemingway’s verse. It just requires an interest – an interest in appreciating a different side of Hem’s literary style.

The two book images featured in this posting represent two of the earliest publications (in book form) of Hemingway's poetry. More information about these books may be found at my website: Northwest Press Books