Consider these four pictures, if you will:
Their arrangement isn’t perverse or arbitrary. But it occurred to me that they sum up the two great currents of being in American art over the last two hundred years: the Includers and the Excluders. Those who try to encompass their own huge vision within the bounds of a form; those who pare away anything extraneous to offer us epigrams, tiny cryptic near-riddles. What if Emily Dickinson is really poetry’s Thelonious Monk — sharp-edged, caustically lovely creative force, saying all that needs to be said in her hymnlike stanzas? Perhaps we should only read her to the accompaniment of Monk’s version of “Abide With Me,” which might be his shortest recording? And, to turn the proposition around, doesn’t Art Tatum make much more sense if we hear every solo, every chorus, as his personal Song of Myself ? It’s true, the proposition might need work. Dickinson might really be Count Basie. Consider it. For myself, I’m wondering if Wordsworth is more a James P. Johnson or perhaps even Earl Hines.