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Gin Before Breakfast
The Dilemma of the Poet in the Newsroom

W. Dale Nelson

Cloth $14.95    |    978-0-8156-0888-2    |    2007

W. Dale Nelson, a poet-journalist himself, explores the provocative effect of journalism upon poetry and likewise poetry on the newsroom.

"Nelson, who spent 40 years as an Associated Press reporter, contemplates the chasm separating poetry and journalism, observing, ‘Newspaper stories tell us about names and titles, distances and populations, fatality totals and investigations. Poems tell us about ourselves.’ Exploring influences of one form on the other in this insightful study, he profiles famous and obscure British and American poets who labored as journalists. Poets had been told to avoid journalism as they would ‘gin before breakfast,’ said Archibald MacLeish, who landed his job with Fortunebecause ‘Luce... believed it was easier to turn a poet into a business journalist than to make a writer out of a bookkeeper.’ Analyzing the lives and language of Coleridge, Poe, Kipling, Sandburg and others, Nelson finds a few, notably Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas, were ill-suited for journalism, but many benefited. With Whittier’s antislavery poems, poetry and journalism merged: ‘Whittier the editorialist and Whittier the poet had come together triumphantly,’ Nelson concludes. ‘The concreteness that is important to journalism can help avoid the vagueness that sometimes afflicts poetry, and fresh metaphors can serve the newspaper writer as well as the poet.’ "
Publishers Weekly

This enlightening volume presents minibiographies of key British and American poets who at one time or another worked as journalists. Poets covered range from the famous to the obscure: Whittier to Whitman, Kipling to Bryant, Coleridge to Crane.

Writing in a direct, unadorned style, W. Dale Nelson tells each writer’s story, often relating how the poet in question felt about the journalistic experience and its impact upon creative work. Archibald MacLeish wrote "young poets are advised by their elders to avoid the practice of journalism as they would wet socks and gin before breakfast." On the other hand, Leonard Woolf suggests that Hemingway’s strong spare prose often "bears the mark of good journalism."

The author raises compelling issues about developments in poetic form, effects of printing and communication on poetry, and the relationship of poetry and locales. He also looks at how poetic diction has been influenced by the language of reportage and the basic difference in the purpose of journalism versus that of poetry.

View other books on Journalism

W. Dale Nelson spent forty years as a reporter with the Associated Press. His poetry has appeared in periodicals in the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia. He has received awards from Poetry Northwest, Plainsongs, and Visions. His books include Who Speaks for the President: The White House Press Secretary from Cleveland to Clinton, also published by Syracuse University Press.

6 x 9, 208 pages, 11 black-and-white illustrations, bibliography, index

Gin Before Breakfast

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