Eccentric and Recluse Poets and Authors?
June 11, 2015 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Greetings. I'm wondering if there are any notable or smaller scale poets and writers that were mainly hermits or eccentric? I'm not picky with the genre, country, or era.

Are there any poets and authors that come to mind with eccentricity? I'm trying to search for poets and writers that have lived solitary and isolated lives. I would also like to see an example of the eccentricity and recluse lives illustrated through the poets' or authors' writing; if there is any that are highlighted and standout through: short stories, poetry, haiku, novels, etc. Perhaps also, writers and poets that battled mental illness, which succumbed them to become recluse later in their lives, would also be another important question to ask. I'm particularly fond of Southern American, Indigenous, Swedish, and Irish writers if there are any that fit in this realm -- postmodern and modern. The bulk of this question is about searching for eccentric and recluse poets and authors.

posted by RearWindow to Education (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You're not going to get more notable or reclusive than Emily Dickinson.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:09 PM on June 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Philip Larkin was not eccentric, exactly, but he was certainly solitary and a lot of his poetry is about grappling with that solitariness. Reasons for Attendance comes to mind as a humorous take on his predicament; Dockery and Son is more serious, as is Mr Bleaney, and I also read Absences as a meditation on a related theme.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:13 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @cjorgensen I have heard of her name, but haven't dabbled into her work. Thanks!
posted by RearWindow at 1:13 PM on June 11, 2015

Thomas Pynchon is famously reclusive. I suppose that qualifies as eccentricity these days, but I think he's just a really private sort of guy.
posted by jquinby at 1:16 PM on June 11, 2015

J.D. Salinger
posted by jgirl at 1:19 PM on June 11, 2015

Christopher Smart was confined in an insane asylum for a period, which may or may not have been because of mental illness, and did some of his most famous work there.
posted by Jahaza at 1:26 PM on June 11, 2015

The current issue of Tricycle magazine has an interview with poet David Budbill in which he discusses being a recluse and the tradition of seclusion in Chinese poetry (he's American).
posted by Jahaza at 1:28 PM on June 11, 2015

Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton were mentally ill and committed suicide.
posted by Melismata at 1:35 PM on June 11, 2015

Rosemary Tonks might interest you (mentioned in a MeFi post last year).
posted by misteraitch at 1:37 PM on June 11, 2015

Check out Portugal's eccentric and mysterious poet Fernando Pessoa. That guy was as weird and reclusive as the day is long and his masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet, was put together from numbered scraps of paper found in a chest after he died.
posted by johngoren at 1:49 PM on June 11, 2015

Stevie Smith (author of my favorite poem, Fafnir and the Knights).
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:53 PM on June 11, 2015

posted by Ideefixe at 2:20 PM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Not a hermit per se, (he was a hugely successful classical scholar) but A.E Housman jumps out at me on this. Rebuffed by his best friend Moses Jackson, the failure of the relationship became a real fulcrum of his life and certainly a driving force of his poetry.

Its fantastic stuff, tragic, elegiac and certainly gives a deep physiological insight into the gloomy, life of the poet, and the rather arid emotional landscape of Homosexual men in Edwardian England.

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand, and tore my heart in sunder,
And went with half my life about my ways.

While he continued in his work, he seems to have had a rather stunted life, as well as a rather prickly personality as commented by friends and contemporaries.

Nevertheless he certainly lived an interesting private life to the extent of taking up with Moses' brother Adalbert. With Moses dying in Canada he rushed out publication of his later works so that his love could read it on his deathbed.

He certainly strikes me as a tragic figure, and certainly someone who appears to have lived a solitary and isolated life, for all his worldly successes, but also heroic in being someone who was not afraid to go against the grain and live life on his own terms, albeit quietly.

He's certainly a hero of mine at any rate, as well as a fantastic poet, especially of loneliness and yearning.
posted by Middlemarch at 3:02 PM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

This list may be useful.
posted by mermaidcafe at 6:05 PM on June 11, 2015

One more.
posted by mermaidcafe at 6:07 PM on June 11, 2015

Glenn Gould was a pianist, composer, and broadcaster who became more and more averse to human contact as he grew older.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:18 PM on June 11, 2015

Most of the poetry of the late-Austro-Hungarian Georg Trakl is poetry of a recluse, including many in quiet observation of the life of nocturnal woods. Though he wasn't someone who systematically removed himself from human companionship, exactly, he was pretty steadily freaked-out by existence, which maybe fostered a recluse mentality.

Beautiful poetry, anyway, even in translation from the German. Almost Chinese in its unemphatic diction, which was something new in Europe at the time. One I like much, in a version by Robert Bly:

The Sun

Each day the gold sun comes over the hill.
The woods are beautiful, also the dark animals,
Also man; hunter or farmer.

The fish rises with a red body in the green pond.
Under the arch of heaven
The fisherman travels smoothly in his blue skiff.

The grain, the cluster of grapes, ripens slowly.
When the still day comes to an end,
Both evil and good have been prepared.

When the night has come,
Easily the pilgrim lifts his heavy eyelids;
The sun breaks from gloomy ravines.

More can be found here (pdf).
posted by bertran at 6:24 PM on June 11, 2015

Actually, here's a short essay on the Chinese tradition of the recluse, which might inform your research nicely.
posted by bertran at 6:29 PM on June 11, 2015

A.M. Klein was a well-known, highly regarded Jewish-Canadian poet, lawyer and political activist of the 1930s and 1940s. In the mid-1950s, he stopped writing, resigned from his law practice, became more and more reclusive, and eventually died in his Montreal home after many years of struggle with mental illness.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:12 PM on June 11, 2015

You might have already thought of Emily Dickinson, but she can't go without mention in this thread. Not a poet, but Jean Rhys essentially disappeared for five years to write Wild Sargasso Sea. The 19th c. English Poet John Clare has an interesting story and his work touches on some of the issue you mention. Louise Bogan was very reclusive and private. Guy Davenport was a fiction writer who died just a few years ago. He was a fiction writer, critic, essayist, painter and a well-regarded translator of classical poetry. He was a university professor, extremely prolific and responded to every letter he ever received with a typewritten response. He kept his distance from the academic and literary circuit. After he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, he retired from teaching. He could easily have moved along to Johns Hopkins, but he wanted to stay where he could walk to campus, as he had no interest in learning to drive. He was very original and eccentric, but also very sane. :)
posted by GeorgieYeats at 8:16 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a footnote to Middlemarch's comment on A.E. Housman, if you are intrigued by him, I recommend Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love as well as Housman's own poetry. The play focuses on a lot of the themes you are interested in here: self-isolation, the formation of a self-conscious Eccentric identity, loneliness and art.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:56 AM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Patricia Highsmith didn't much like hanging with people.
posted by BWA at 4:58 PM on June 12, 2015

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