Mark Van Doren

Today marks 50 years since the death of Allen’s old Columbia teacher, Mark Van Doren. We wrote about him at length last year – see here 

Mark Van Doren – Portrait of A Poet, a documentary film made by his son, Adam, in 1994, includes a brief contribution from Allen

He can be heard first at approximately two-and-a-half minutes in:

“Since his (Van Doren’s) own form was so conservative and Frost-ian and sort of mid-American, he wasn’t’ very much of an inspiration for (the) experimental, but he was an inspiration for the tone and the position of poet, for the prophetic role of poet, or the sensitive role of poet, or the spiritual search as poet, so that was a really important thing.”

then, at approximately ten-and-three-quarters, (with the following anecdote):

“No , he wasn’t totally soft, he wasn’t totally soft. In fact, you know, one of the funniest things that ever happened was..years later, two, three years later, 1950, I met Gregory Corso, who was a divine poet, a great poet, the American poet, maudit, poète maudit, like, spent his early years in jail and he’s been strung out since. So I thought,”well, poet? – who do I know who’s a poet? I should take Gregory to see the older poet, Mark Van Doren.  So we went to 393 Bleecker Street, where Mark had his old bohemian red-brick brownstone house. This was during the time of the Alger Hiss trials and he had just been found guilty by a jury (first trial, first jury, or something). Now  I had absolutely no idea of the history of the Trillings with Whittaker Chambers or Mark Van Doren, or Mark’s relation with Hiss, or anything like that. Being a Commie pinko myself, I was more or less on Hiss’s side. It was in the headlines that day – “Hiss Was Guilty” – So Mark said “What do you think, do you think he’s guilty?”. So I said, “Well, I don’t know, I guess so, the jury said so.” – And he exploded!  – “How dare you? You?, of all people, to say a thing like that!” – And he read me the riot act in front of Gregory (and that was humiliating because I had brought this young poet to this nice old man, and instead this guy was talking to me as if I was a creep, and that I was a jerk, and easily brainwashed, and, of all people, I should be talking glibly like that, (glib – glib, superficial, easily-manipulated, you know, by any kind of mass media, typical American, “Poet, you call yourself?  you don’t know.. you’re wet behind the ears, you don’t know anything !”

Alger Hiss testifying in 1948

John Berresford – The Hiss-Chambers Espionage Case 

Mark Van Doren (1894-1972)

Van Doren’s December 1972 New York Times obituary notice  detailing a rich and extraordinary life can be read here

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