Ernest Hemingway's impact on the world

Opinion: Columns

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This Saturday, July 21, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park explores the impact of Poetry magazine on Hemingway and, through him, the world. This is the 100th anniversary of the magazine that helped bring the world modern literature. The Hemingway Foundation has invited John Barr to present his discoveries about this literary revolution at its annual Hemingway Birthday Lecture. Barr is president of the Poetry Foundation, which publishes Poetry magazine. His topic is "Hemingway among the Modernists."

Modernists in the last century helped Hemingway write in a new way. Mentored by their most influential poet, Ezra Pound, Ernest learned to focus on the immediate, essential, tangible and meaningful in an experience. He learned how to convey that to readers with crisp words ordered with precision, poetry and drama. Once he mastered this approach, Hemingway would produce writing understandable and moving to people nearly everywhere.

The Modernism that boosted Ernest Hemingway's ascent to the literary stratosphere began in 1912. That year visionary journalist Harriet Monroe, hell-bent to transform literature, launched Poetry magazine in Chicago. That fall, just west of Chicago, Ernest enrolled at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

Here Ernest wrote prose for student publications, carefully reporting observations as learned from his naturalist father. He also read and wrote poetry [see sidebar], artistically expressing feelings as learned from his musician mother. In time, he would use these skills to describe something so well that it gave a reader the same feeling it had given him. That sense of, as he said, "how it was" could be attained, he thought, by "putting poetry into prose."

From 1917-1918, Ernest used his skills of direct observation and objective reporting in his first job at the Kansas City Star. He communicated what was basic and compelling in a story using familiar words in terse, transparent sentences. By 1922, Ernest was exploring poetry's images, patterns and figurative language with Ezra Pound, Poetry magazine's representative in Paris. The following year, Hemingway's poems appeared in Poetry, which had also published Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, Vachel Lindsay, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats.

Like his fellow Modernists, Hemingway's impact on the world came from the fresh sensations, feelings and thoughts his writings evoked in readers. He conveyed his consciousness to his readers through his content and how he communicated it. What he wrote about drew on his encyclopedic knowledge and adventures from war to love in the wilderness and civilization on four continents. The plain-spoken, candid, way he wrote lives on today in the words people use and how they use them. Hemingway and the Modernists have changed how people observe, speak and write across two centuries. They have affected what people around the world bring to their lives — and how they respond to them. For this, Ernest Hemingway, his fellow Modernists and Poetry magazine must share the credit.

The Ernest Hemingway Birthday Lecture at the Hemingway Museum, 200 N. Oak Park Ave. takes place July 21 from 6 to 10 p.m., with food, drink and music, followed by the 7 p.m. Birthday Lecture, "Hemingway among the Modernists," by John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation. For further details visit www. ehfop.org.

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