COXE, LOUIS O[SBORNE]. (1918– ). Louis O. Coxe was a student
in Allen Tate’s Creative Arts program at Princeton when Pearl Harbor occurred. Having grown up in Salem, Massachusetts, Coxe joined the navy.
He came to regard his wartime service at sea as the central experience of his
Coxe’s naval service involved strenuous duty aboard small patrol vessels
convoying cargo and amphibious ships to landings in the central Pacific.
During the war Coxe wrote poetry about his experiences, sometimes meeting with fellow naval officer and poet William Meredith* to discuss their
poetry. After leaving the service, Coxe published The Sea Faring and Other
Poems (1947). This volume is dominated by poems with naval subjects, such
as “The Sea Faring,” “Red Right Returning,” and “Convoy,” although New
England and its literary seafarers also find their place in this and (more often)
in later books. Among Coxe’s later naval poetry is “The Strait,” the concluding poem in The Last Hero and Other Poems (1965). This long poem
memorably elegizes the death of the cruiser Houston during the 1942 Battle
of the Java Sea. Other Coxe poems, such as “Nuns on Shipboard” and “The
Navigator Contemplates Heaven,” use naval metaphors to affirm orthodox
Christian values.
Much of Coxe’s writing is not based on personal experience but still has
seafaring as a central subject. Coxe and Robert Chapman collaborated in
writing Billy Budd* (1951), a play based on Herman Melville’s* novella
that ran on Broadway for four months after receiving good reviews when it
premiered at the Experimental Theatre. This version featured Lee Marvin
in his Broadway debut. The Middle Passage (1960), perhaps Coxe’s best
single work, is a long narrative poem about the slave trade in New England.
Based on a personal narrative of the slaver Theodore Canot, this poem narrates in gripping detail the brutal transport of slaves to America aboard a
Salem whaling vessel. The poem condemns New England mercantilism and
racism and also offers a poetic reprise of the fall of humankind.