Poets & the Peacock Dinner

Turkey, peacock, what's the difference? There was food, tension, and big personalities—sounds like a typical Thanksgiving, even if this year's festivities are anything but normal

Poets & the peacock dinner : the literary history of a meal

McDiarmid, Lucy. Oxford, 2015
212p bibl index, 9780198722786 $45.00

All students of modern poetry know Ezra Pound’s “Canto LXXXI”—”To have, with decency, knocked / That a Blunt should open / To have gathered from the air a live tradition”—and most are familiar with the famous photograph of Pound, William Butler Yeats, Wilfrid Blunt, and four other poets taken at the 1914 dinner at which the younger poets honored Blunt and everyone dined on peacock. McDiarmid (Montclair State Univ.) has written a lively, engaging account of the dinner, its varied significances, and its participants. Blunt was a wealthy, outspoken anti-imperialist (jailed for his support of evicted Irish tenants in 1887) who wrote conventional poetry, married Lord Byron’s granddaughter, and had an adulterous affair with Yeats’s benefactor, Lady Gregory. He was not a modernist, so it seems odd that Pound and company would want to honor him, but McDiarmid presents the event as an homage to Blunt’s non-conformity and a site of aggressive masculine rivalries and homosocial friendships set against a series of heterosexual intimacies. Lady Gregory emerges as the absent presence behind the dinner, which emblematizes the transmission of “the professional culture of poetry.”

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers.
Reviewer: G. Grieve-Carlson, Lebanon Valley College
Subject: Humanities – Language & Literature – English & American
Choice Issue: Aug 2015