Laureates and Heretics

Six Careers in American Poetry

Robert Archambeau

Robert Archambeau examines the influence of the poet and critic Yvor Winters on his final generation of graduate students at Stanford in the early 1960s: Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, James McMichael, John Matthias, and John Peck. Archambeau divides the poets into two groups, laureates and heretics. Hass and Pinsky, each of whom served multiple terms as United Sates Poet Laureate, achieved both popular recognition and institutional renown. In contrast, the poetic accomplishments of Matthias, McMichael, and Peck (and to some extent Winters himself), the “heretics,” have not resulted in wide readership or institutional canonization.

Archambeau begins with the context of the modernist poetics Winters first espoused and then rejected. The story that follows—of how his five most prominent students accepted, rejected, or transformed Winters’s poetics, and how these poets went on to greater or lesser degrees of success in the field of late twentieth-century letters—illuminates the cultural politics of poetry in our own day. The author provides close readings of poems by this diverse group of poets, places their careers and works in the context of their times, and traces the relationship between American literary history and American canons of literary taste from the 1930s to the present day. Laureates and Heretics is an important contribution to American literary history and American poetry.

ROBERT ARCHAMBEAU is associate professor of English at Lake Forest College. He is the author and editor of a number of books, including Home and Variations.

Advance Praise: “I know of no other study of twentieth-century American poetry that so carefully and interestingly treats the works and careers of a single figure (Yvor Winters) and five of his students. The varying critical and public fates of Winters and the poets who worked under him make a fascinating study, even gesturing towards a global history of postwar American poetry.” — Mark Scroggins, Florida Atlantic University


“Archambeau’s unique study will please—perhaps fascinate—those with a serious interest in US poetry. . . . Archambeau taps deep into the traditions of poetry in English, revealing his knowledge of the many schools and tendencies that developed in Winters’s lifetime and about previous critical work. The chapters on Winters’s literary offspring provide worthy introductions, but his book is ultimately a meditation on taste and the vicissitudes of literary fame.” — Choice