A review of Arm in Arm (Mercer, 2022) by Catharine Savage Brosman
Our conscious civilisation begins with Homer and is firmly anchored in Virgil, Dante, the French troubadours, and the Viking bards. Its deepest expressions are in verse. William Faulkner may have had something like this in mind when he lamented that he was “only a failed poet.”
That is why it is such a great comfort to find in this degenerate time an outstanding poet writing firmly inside and of Western civilization. In Arm in Arm her subject matter is varied—Southwestern and Christian history, terrain, flowers and trees, foreign places, and ordinary human interactions. The effect of entry into her world is moving and yet hard to explain. One contemporary poet describes her work as “jaw-droppingly beautiful” and among the best poetry in English. Another writes that she is keeping alive the western tradition of “love, beauty, and morals.” She is regularly translated in French journals.
Whatever the subject, on reading one has the feeling of being a wiser and better person and a participant in a living civilisation and something deeply humane but cast in a form of earthly practicality.
Dr. Brosman has published eighteen volumes of scholarship on French literature and four on American Southern and Southwestern writers. Her more than forty books also includes a collection of stories and three volumes of outstanding cultural commentary, most recently Music from the Lake and Other Essays. The essays are both entertaining and serious contemporary observations on our decaying culture.
To find great scholarship and great creative writing in the same person is a rare thing. Success in multiple forms of expression has been almost exclusively a Southern thing in American letters. In the founders of Southern literature we find in Poe excellence in poetry, fiction, and criticism, and in Simms poetry, novels and stories, criticism, and history.
More recent Southern writers reveal the same kind of first-rate accomplishment in various genres: Robert Penn Warren, Fred Chappell, George Garrett, Wendell Berry, and others. And our own Abbeville Scholar James Kibler, the greatest of Simms scholars, author of poetry, novels, and the beautiful nonfiction Our Fathers’ Fields.
Although she is obviously greatly influenced by her Rocky Mountain Colorado background and her immersion in French culture, Dr. Brosman has lived much of her life in New Orleans and Houston. I once had the temerity to claim her as a Southern writer. She graciously did not object and has lent her name and fame to the Abbeville Institute.