A Swallow Press Book

Collected Poems E. L. Mayo

By E. L. Mayo

“E. L. Mayo’s poems shine with wit and wonder and intelligence that make them truly remarkable. Somber and amused in their vision, they are full of the fever and chill of our own humanity. These are important poems, and this collection should do much to restore to Mayo’s work the critical attention it justly deserves.”

Robert Dana

“Mayo’s poems have an admirable clarity and lucidity and a determination to avoid clichés.”

Milton Crane

E. L. Mayo was a quiet poet who embraced obscurity almost as a condition for his intellectual freedom. Still, a few discerning critics noticed. David Daiches has said that “Mayo’s poems … pretend to be simple prose–like utterances, whereas in fact the best of them contain an echoing poetic meaning which begins to relase itself a split second after we have read the words.”

John Ciardi heralds him as a major figure in the development of the modern poem: “Some of the poems of E. L. Mayo are happy evidence of how far poetry has come in a hundred years toward acquiring a wholly natural mastery of the commonest details of ordinary living… the sudden burgeoning of second meaning is the final distinction that separates poetry from prose… Mayo’s ability to carry the poem from obsevation to revelation is a notable accomplishment.”

David Ray says in his introduction to this collection “Mayo was a Metaphysical, and his poems gain in power because of the tension between the metaphysical, the occasionally obscure or at least demanding references, and the idiomatic. Mayo followed up on mysteries, sought ‘the true, secret name of the river,’ opened up ‘the mystery of better and of worse,’ negotiated with that angel whose ‘name was Lonliness.’ Poetry, he said, was a ‘mirror, showing/Clearer than to our shadowy sense, the glowing/And waning of a more than mortal creature.’ Just as ‘moles are very little/And worlds are very big,’ so the poet and his world must work and live together, unfairly matched. Out of such tensionan occasional miracle emerges, hence Mayo‘s ‘El Greco’ sonnet. Such poems must not be lost to future generations.”

Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1904, E.L. Mayo attended schools in Malden, Massachusetts, then Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. For three years thereafter he held miscellaneous jobs as a brush salesman, clerk in a music store, waiter in the Mount Washington Hotel, wine steward in the Bahamas, etc. In 1929 he returned to study at the University of Minnesota. He was graduated magna cum laude in 1932, later returning to take his M.A. in 1936. He was a recipient of the Payne Prize (1932), the Blumenthal Prize (Poetry, Chicago, 1942), and the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Fellowship (1953–54). From 1947 Mayo taught at Drake University. He was professor of English and in 1961 received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from Iowa Wesleyan. Professor Mayo died in 1979. He is survived by his wife, Myra, and three children, and grandchildren.

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