Reviews

LOVE SONGS:
The Lives, Loves, and Poetry of Nine American Women

Publisher’s Weekly 10/5/18

This fine book from Dizikes (Opera in America: A Cultural History), professor emeritus of American Studies at UC-Santa Cruz, follows the lives and work of nine American women poets who rose to prominence in the first half of the 20th Century. Some, such as Amy Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Dorothy Parker, are still familiar names. Others, such as Léonie Adams, Louise Bogan, and Elinor Wylie, have fallen into obscurity. All, however, gravitated at some point to New York City and contributed to its vibrant literary and cultural scene. Dizikes explores their lives by dividing his book into sections based on historical period, offering a slice of each woman’s life in each section, allowing readers the chance to compare and contrast, or to flip through the book and read any one poet’s life through. Dizikes’s prose is straightforward and easily readable, without critical jargon. His chief strength, however, is his ability to convey the personal cost of art for women in this period: some left husbands and children behind or had abortions, Parker attempted suicide twice, and a few faced a lack of recognition for their work as they aged. This would make an excellent gift book for bibliophiles, easy to dip in and out of, and filled with attention-grabbing and important poems and stories.

***

Review posted on FB by James K. Graham:

I have just finished reading a remarkable new book by my beloved mentor and friend, John Dizikes, founding faculty member of Cowell College at UC Santa Cruz, Emeritus Professor of American Studies, and former Provost of Cowell College. At the age of 85, he has self-published Love Songs: The Lives, Loves, and Poetry of Nine American Women…No doubt some will wonder at an octogenarian male historian’s writing about women poets of the first half of the 20th century. John Dizikes does not condescend, nor does he pretend special insight into women’s lives. But he recognizes and appreciates what they have to say to him and to his life — and, by extension, to us and our lives.

The first great value of this book comes from introducing (or perhaps, in a few cases, re-introducing) readers to the perceptive, perplexing, entrancing, seductive, sometimes erudite, sometimes flippant, but always enjoyable poems themselves. John prints dozens and dozens of poems whole; excerpts represent only a few. It’s sad and shameful that the so-called New Criticism that enthralled my literature professors when I was studying American Literature completely ignored the works of these poets.

The second great value of Love Songs is that John doesn’t attempt academic analyses of the poems. Instead, he presents them in the context of their authors’ lives and times — and to most of us, the world of 100 years ago is completely unknown. Most of them did not have happy lives. Mostly their poetry did not come easily. Most of them had to struggle against the stereotype of the “lady poet.” And they rebelled against social structures and strictures that confined women’s lives and limited what they could say and how they could say it.

The third great value of Loves Songs is the way it reflects the attitudes of its author. Again and again John praises his poets for choosing to live their lives and write their poetry according to their own convictions, rather than according to the dicta of editors and others who claim to know what “the public wanted.” Few academics, no matter what they may say, do this. Sooner or later, they subscribe to (or succumb to) the prevailing culture of “publish or perish” and “doing my research” and only grudgingly spend time in the classroom with lowly and uninteresting undergraduates. Not John Dizikes. He escaped the straitjacket of the History Department and found a congenial home in cross-disciplinary American Studies, bringing together history, popular culture, music, art, architecture, politics, and sports. He didn’t crank out endless monographs for obscure journals to gain gold stars for his résumé. He published books, not on the New Deal, but on horse-racing and opera. He didn’t devote himself to a few choice graduate students, but joyfully taught and mentored several generations of undergraduates, listening to them and challenging them to ask questions and to think creatively. And he’s still doing that. When alumni come to Santa Cruz, they call to see if John is available for lunch or a cup of chocolate. And on occasions such as Reunion Weekend, John receives waves of us at home. He is a teacher and this is what a teacher does.

I enthusiastically recommend Love Songs to you.

***

 

Opera in America:
A Cultural History

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, 1993

 

“Every opera lover will rejoice in John Dizikes’s rich and fascinating account of the role opera has played in the life of the republic.”
—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

 

“[A] huge, and hugely entertaining, narrative.”
The New Yorker

“John Dizikes brings a superb critical lens to this definitive history of opera and its uniquely American influence. His mastery of a subject that won’t sit still — that flourishes in magnificent opera houses as well as ramshackle town halls — speaks to nothing less than a nation coming of age. Dizikes’s personal exuberance and eye for detail make Opera in America as vivid and enduring as opera itself.”
—National Book Critics Circle Award citation
“A curious and delightful unearthing of opera firsts.”
New York Times Book Review, Notable Books of the Year

 

“A rich lode of cultural material and a horde of wonderful stories, woven into a highly readable chronicle. The book maps out a fresh profile for a genre sometimes misunderstood as quintessentially elitist.”
—Richard Crawford, University of Michigan

 

“By far the most entertaining classical-music book of the year, [it] tells the story of how the plaything of the rich put down roots in the land of Wyatt Earp.”
New York Daily News

“Anyone who is interested in the history of opera in the United States will thoroughly enjoy this well-written and fascinating book. An important contribution to the musical literature, this book is above all utterly entertaining. I read it with great delight.”
—Vinson Cole, opera singer

“A wealth of information, all the more fascinating because it takes in the 18th and 19th centuries, which are not well chronicled elsewhere.”
—David Gockley, general director, Houston Grand Opera

 

“A smart, funny, splendidly written, and strikingly illustrated panorama of the New World’s adoption of the Old World’s most lavish and lively art form. Dizikes offers a wealth of insight and history—American, theatrical, and musical—in this monumental labor of love. . . . Should attract and fascinate a wide audience, lovers of Americana as well as opera fans.”
Kirkus Reviews

“This substantial important volume is also a pleasure to read. . . . A real page-turner.
Library Journal

“Comprehensive chronicle with colorful detail. . . . Dizikes has assembled a thoroughly enlightening walk through opera history.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“Musicals and operettas form part of the picture as the author describes—his enthusiasm fairly jumping off each page—cities, houses, companies, performers, performances, conductors, and company directors important in the opera scene in America, beginning with the first recorded presentation, which occurred in 1735 in Charleston, South Carolina.”
Booklist

 

“Amiable, unpretentious, occasionally wry. . . . A generous potpourri of illustrations brightens many a page. . . . One would have to be full of ill nature not to applaud [this] book.”
—Gary Schmidgall, New York Times Book Review

 

“Dizikes has written a book that anyone interested in the subject will enjoy, presenting an enormous quantity of information. . .in lively, readable prose. . . . Most impressive, perhaps, is Dizikes’s success in conveying a sense of national history.”
—Paul Mattick Jr., Nation

 

“This is a wide-ranging, scholarly, but entertaining history of the performance and composition of opera in America. . . . The author’s firm grasp on political and cultural history makes this an exceptionally enjoyable overview.”
—Patrick O’Connor, BBC Music Magazine

 

“A gripping drama. . . . Opera in America is a much needed book. . . . [It] hold[s] the attention and send[s] serious students down fruitful research paths.”
—Philip Kennicott, Opera News

 

“A sweeping, colorful account of how opera fared here, a beautiful object of art that also boasts a voice.”
—Edward J. Sozanksi, Philadelphia Inquirer

 

“A truly stimulating and immensely informative history of the impact of opera on the USA and the impact of the USA’s cultural life on the understanding, production and composition of opera in the New World. . . . [A] thoroughly entertaining book.”
Musical Opinion

 

“John Dizikes’ book, more than any other, has served to give us the range and scope of operatic history in the U.S. and has laid to rest—one hopes forever—the idea that opera is an art form alien to our shores.”
—Patrick J. Smith, Wagner Notes

 

“Dizikes’ book marshals an enormous amount of information coherently and is lavishly illustrated with period drawings and photographs. This book will prove fascinating to opera lovers, but those interested in American studies will also find that Dizikes has written an important chapter in the cultural history of the United States.”
Virginia Quarterly Review

 

“John Dizikes’s book is one that opera enthusiasts both in the United States and abroad have been eagerly awaiting for many years. . . . Dizikes has accomplished much in this ground-breaking original work. . . . His enthusiasm for opera is evident on every page. The book should popularize opera for a wide audience of readers who will find it not only informative but entertaining as well.”
—James E. Seaver, American Studies

“[Opera in America] fills a void by providing readable, intelligent history . . . of an form an American audience that were not always of like minds.”
—Marge Betley, American Theatre

 

“A brilliant essay in cultural history, and one of the most compellingly readable works . . . I have ever read. . . . His ever-colorful tale . . . is a thick, savory slice of American history.”
—David Littlejohn, San Francisco Chronicle

 

“A fascinating saga of the arts.”
—Stephen Whitty, San Jose Mercury News

 

“The story of opera’s tenuous life in our country isn’t always pretty, but Mr. Dizikes tells it with the narrative gift of a novelist and the objective eye of a scholar. Opera in America, you realize after reading Mr. Dizikes, is just beginning.”
—Kenneth LaFave, Washington Times

 

“An engaging piece of American social history that gives a delightful perspective on the whole vital, exasperating—and in the end very hopeful—story of American musical culture.”
—William Bolcom, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer