978-1-883011-78-9 / 9781883011789

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About the book:

If the first three decades of the 20th century mark the real birth of American poetry, then the following three might be considered a long and sometimes contentious adolescence. Not that there's anything juvenile about the work of Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, Langston Hughes, or Theodore Roethke--quite the opposite. But after the fireworks of early modernism, there's a sense of American poetry finally coming into its own, multifarious identity. And the editors of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, Volume Two: E.E. Cummings to May Swenson--i.e., the same Gang of Five that compiled the stellar first volume--have done very handsomely by the era.

Again there are generous servings of the indisputable giants, from Hughes to Roethke to the underrated Louise Bogan. Perhaps the editors have been too generous with Cummings's lowercase frolics, but there is a historical argument to be made in his favor: who else gave modernism such a human (not to say antic) face? Hart Crane certainly gets his due, with nearly 40 pages devoted to the linguistic spans of "The Bridge," and Elizabeth Bishop's section alone is worth the price of admission--indeed, I'd push cash on the barrelhead simply to read the exquisite conclusion to "Over 2000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance":

&Why couldn't we have seen
this old Nativity while we were at it?
--the dark ajar, the rocks breaking with light,
an undisturbed, unbreathing flame,
colorless, sparkless, freely fed on straw,
and, lulled within, a family with pets,
--and looked and looked our infant sight away.
As they did in the first volume, the editors have included a smattering of song lyrics, from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Frank Loesser. And while purists may sniff at these confections from Tin Pan Alley, you won't find any more memorable, slang-slinging light verse in this century. There's also the organizational principle of the book to reckon with. The poets have been arranged according to date of birth, with the cutoff year fixed at 1913--which explains the absence of Randall Jarrell (b. 1914) or Robert Lowell (b. 1917), who certainly ran with Elizabeth Bishop's poetic pack. Still, this strictly chronological system has produced some delightful surprises. What other anthology would slot country-blues avatar Robert Johnson between Paul Goodman and Josephine Miles? Or John Cage between Tennessee Williams and William Everson? These are miniature lessons in cultural border-busting, which is what the entire volume accomplishes on a larger and infinitely pleasurable scale. --James Marcus

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