Thursday, November 11, 2010


Edna St Vincent Millay, America's Best-Loved Poet, Toby Shafter, Julian Messner Inc, 1957

 Like many young girls, my life was changed in eighth grade by Millay's poem, "Renascence." I did not become a poetry reader or writer, though my eighth grade English teacher did his best to turn us into lovers of poetry, but I did learn that it is possible to express strong emotion in writing. I've been writing ever since but the closest I have come to poetry is in my song lyrics. Edna St Vincent Millay lived on in my fantasies as someone I would have loved to have as a friend.

 Julian Messner Publishers produced an entire series of biographies for young adults in the mid twentieth century, this biography of Millay being one of them. I originally stumbled upon it in the library over ten years ago and read it with avid interest. Because it is for young people, the writing is somewhat simplistic and glosses over the more lurid aspects of the poet's life. You see, Edna was actually quite a bad girl in her day, living in Greenwich Village, reveling in promiscuity, drinking way too much and pouring out her heart in her writing.

 If you want the whole delicious tale, read Nancy Milford's 2001 biography, Savage Beauty. This one by Toby Shafter is quite a feat though. She manages to avoid what people these days call "content" when they are looking for appropriate reading material for teens, but still gets across the key element of Millay's life: her driving ambition. Best of all, I finally learned the story behind "Renascence."

 The image above is not the book cover, because I could not find one, but is a beautiful picture of Edna in her younger days.

(The book is out of print, which I consider a travesty, but is still available in libraries and from used book sellers.)

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