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This review is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

RE-RIGHTING HISTORY Anthology of Twentieth-Century British & Irish Poetry, edited by Keith Tuma (Oxford University Press), $42.50

Anthologies are an established feature of the landscape of contemporary poetry and yet it has become increasingly difficult to answer the question 'Whom do they serve?'' or, indeed, to discern whether they serve any useful purpose at all. This is because anthologies are usually masquerades in which partiality is presented as comprehensiveness, individual taste or prejudice as historical objectivity and close personal friends as the future hopes of poetry. The result is a kind of literary history as the sustained reverberations of distortion effects.

It is against this background noise that Keith Tuma has almost achieved the impossible. His Anthology of Twentieth-Century British & Irish Poetry is full of surprising discoveries and judicious selections from names who naturally demand inclusion. The book is genuinely pluralist and is, therefore, the first of its kind since Edward Lucie-Smith's 1970 anthology British Poetry since 1945. This alone makes it both important and remarkable. The fact that Tuma is an American critic has perhaps allowed him a greater degree of detachment from British and Irish poetry's tribes and isolations than a native could manage. For example, mention Edith Sitwell - one of Tuma's more unusual rehabilitations - and sooner or later someone will pop up with Leavis's dusty estimate about her belonging to the history of publicity. Tuma in contrast is interested in reading the poetry as poetry. The result is 941 pages and 126 poets beginning with Hardy, Hopkins, Kipling and Yeats and ending with Caroline Bergvall, Drew Milne, Catherine ...


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