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This review is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

CATCHING UP Five American Poets, edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet) £14.95
ROBERT ARCHAMBEAU, Laureates and Heretics (University of Notre Dame Press) £28.95

Thirty years ago, Carcanet published an anthology of poetry by Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, James McMichael, John Peck and John Matthias. Now, in a new book of the same name, we have the chance to catch up (or become acquainted) with this now-septuagenarian quintet. At the same time, with wonderful serendipity, Robert Archambeau has written a study of the five, and their late teacher, Yvor Winters. This could be a significant moment in the British reception of twentieth-century American poetry.

Of the poets, Hass and Pinsky (Archambeau’s titular laureates), though less colossal figures here than at home, are so prominent, and their work so readily accessible online, that it would be absurd to excerpt and appraise them. Of the ‘heretics’, Peck, Matthias and McMichael may be known to inquisitive readers of modern poetry, but this anthology may gain for their work some exposure to a wider audience. Much of Archambeau’s book (subtitled ‘Six Careers in American Poetry’) is concerned with the reasons behind their relative obscurity, and why they deserve more notice.

Two laureates, then, and three heretics: a curious bunch; not a ‘movement’ but a loose association. The circumstance behind their initial grouping was their time together at Stanford University in the twilight years of Yvor Winters, the éminence grise of the anthology, and whom Archambeau takes as his starting point. As a young man, Winters was a devoted Imagist, who held poetry to be ‘a permanent gateway to waking oblivion’ through complete identification ...


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