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Monday, December 26, 2011

Shooting at Penguins

So, apparently the new Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, selected and edited by Rita Dove-- former US Poet Laureate, not to mention Akron home-town girl--has been attracting some vicious reviews over her choice of which poets, and which poems, represent the 20th century, centered on Helen Vendler's slam review in The New York Review of Books, asking “Why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value?"
Enough fire has been drawn to attract the attention of the Chronicle of Higher Education: ("Bloodletting Over an Anthology").

John Olsen, in the Tillalia Chronicles, calls the anthology flightless, and says "The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry is such a travesty, why bother to say anything about it at all?" He goes on to comment "in view of what a hideous and psychotic landscape the United States has become, should it be that surprising that an anthology of American poetry would exclude, oh, I don’t know, Howl?"

In the Kenyon Review’s blog, poet Amit Majmudar suggests that the problem is that "its title is at odds with its nature." He suggests that the volume might have been fine if it were just Dove's selections of poems she liked, but for an anthology with pretense to some scholarly value as an overview of the century, “the volume comes to seem biased to the point of scholarly unreliability.”

Inclusivity, exclusivity... is it really a "dubious and incoherent selection from the country’s last century of verse."?

Whoa. So much attention! Everybody loves it when poets fight.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

With the number of comments, has anyone ever thought that we may need an antibiotic to clear up this staff infection?

Jesus Crisis said...

I've only just begun reading the New York Review of Books piece, but I almost immediately found something I'd heartily debate: "No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading." I would have to add "UNTIL the 20th century." I'm certain there are many 20th century poets this reviewer has not read, including many Cleveland area poets who (leaving aside whether or not they belong in this anthology) are most certainly "worth reading."

Jesus Crisis said...

Many other things the NYRoB writer says seem very reasonable and apt to me (e.g. on Dove's selection - or lack thereof - of Wallace Stevens' work). But I feel ill-equipped to offer a totally intelligent and confident response without first acquiring a copy of the anthology in question.

Jesus Crisis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesus Crisis said...

Read anthology editor Rita Dove's response here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/dec/22/defending-anthology/

pottygok said...

I find it curious that this anthology has garnered so much attention, but "Poems for the Millennium" (vols 1&2, respectively) have not. Perhaps they're a bit too far outside Vendler's radar, but I think they disprove a lot of her theories, especially "No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading."

I also find fault with this statement, as it assumes the only poetry being written in America (or the United States, if one must be pedantic) is in English.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the sales figures for poetry? The only thing that ever sales is anthologies like this one - I think this is a stunt to increase coverage - if it bleeds, it leads.
Otherwise this volume would sink to the bottom of the ocean under its own weight...

Cited...

The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau