FREDERICK MORGAN (USA, New York 1922-2004 / act: Philadelphia)

Frederick Morgan Frederick Morgan, who has died aged 81, was a well-to-do Princeton graduate who founded the Hudson Review in 1948. By the time he stepped down as editor-in-chief in 1998, and was succeeded by his wife Paula Deitz, he had become a fixture in New York literary life, whose closest parallel was the tenure of George Plimpton (1927-2003) as editor of the Paris Review. Plimpton was a superstar of the fashionable New York world of rampant self-publicity. Morgan, who was even better connected socially, preferred the invisible pleasures of publishing good essays and encouraging younger poets. § It is easy to sentimentalise the common culture, the civilised respect for literature and learning, that the great American cultural and literary quarterlies (such as the Kenyon, Sewanee, Partisan, Antioch and the Southern Review) once embodied, and that impelled three young Princeton graduates - Morgan, Joseph Bennett and the classicist William Arrowsmith - to write pushy letters inviting contributions from Thomas Mann and Wallace Stevens. Morgan and Bennett had worked on the staff of the leading literary magazine at Princeton, the Nassau Lit, and had the cultural confidence to invite the greatest writers of the day to publish in the same magazine as undergraduate poets like WS Merwin - though they were turned down by Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. § The early issues of the Hudson Review drew upon the editors' Princeton connection. They printed an essay on Dostoyevsky by RP Blackmur, and drew upon Allen Tate, who had taught Morgan and Bennett in a creative writing class and encouraged their interest in starting a literary magazine. They defined the Hudson Review, as Plimpton did the Paris Review in 1953, largely in opposition to the political and ideological obsessions of the New York intellectuals, as assembled in the Partisan Review, edited by William Phillips and Philip Rahv. Perhaps for this reason, the Hudson Review was felt to be less a product of New York and its cultural dynamics than was the Partisan. Published, at first, from Morgan's family home on West 11th Street, in the west Village, the Hudson Review was explicitly literary. There were no political lines on offer, or handwringing about ideology, or crisis theology - just good writing. Morgan solicited contributions from Ezra Pound, then at St Elizabeth's sanatorium. § Morgan was largely immune to the infatuations - Stalinist, Maoist, feminist, semiotic, deconstructionist - that turned New York into a blasted terrain in the culture wars. It made for an unexpectedly harmonious environment for his contributors, and one that has dated far less than its contemporaries and rivals. § From his undergraduate days, Morgan thought of himself as a poet, and had poems and translations published in many magazines. But he felt they had never shown the kind of rightness he admired in the poetry of others. It was the suicide of his son John, and the breakup of his second marriage, both in 1969, that, in effect, gave permission for him to write directly about what mattered to him most. § His first book of poems, The Book Of Change, appeared in 1972, and was nominated for the National Book award. He was then over 50, and his book had a considerable success. Scrambling for a convenient pigeonhole for his work, reviewers discussed him as a "brave anachronism", a religious poet writing "unadulterated sermons". It was followed by Poems Of The Two Worlds (1977) and Death Mother And Other Poems (1979) - both stronger books than his first, they showed Morgan detaching himself from the flat, somewhat preachy tone of his early work. His strongest poems explore the costs of memory (of his childhood, waiting for his father's return home after a rainy day in New York, and affecting poems in memory of his dead son). They engage in a conversation with the past, the dead who reside in his memory, and with the mythical figures who carry collective memory. § Some of Morgan's contributions to American literature have escaped the attention they deserve. Edgar Lansbury, a New York theatrical producer, approached him in 1984 about funding a new poetry series, in conjunction with the Nicholas Roerich museum. Morgan contacted Robert McDowell, editor of a small poetry magazine, the Reaper, which, for a decade, had successfully argued the case for narrative and formal poetry, and invited him to discuss the project. Out of this came the Story Line Press. § The pain of two unhappy marriages survives unmodulated in Morgan's poems. It was not until his third marriage, to Paula Deitz (warmly celebrated in Poems For Paula in 1995), that he began to write with real conviction about happiness. § He is survived by his wife, whom he married in 1969, two daughters and a son. · George Frederick Morgan, editor and poet, born April 25 1922; died February 20 2004 [Eric Homberger, The Guardian, 02/03/2004]