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This article is taken from PN Review 249, Volume 46 Number 1, September - October 2019.

The Time Machine Anthony Walton
Recently, as an African American with a deep, forty­year long interest in American literary matters, I had a startling experience. Paging through the 17 January 2019 New York Review of Books, I lit upon a review of books of poetry, by Jeffrey Yang and Chelsey Minnis. I was not familiar with either poet. What struck me was this opening paragraph:
Is free verse dead? It has been obvious for some time that the unrhymed, unmetered, anecdotal, or monological personal utterance, distinguished by something known as ‘voice’ (as in ‘Finding your voice’) has gone stale; that some esteemed lyric poets, like Terrance Hayes or Natasha Trethewey, have turned back to time-honored forms (from sonnets to villanelles to blues stanzas). Where rules were made to be bent; while a great many others have gravitated toward something loosely known as ‘the poetic project’ or ‘project book,’ in which a governing principle (a subject, a trope) commands an array of forms, from prose poems to word-constellations. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas are only two recent winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award, among other honors.

The paragraph is by the well-respected poet and critic Ange Mlinko, and whether the reader endorses her observations or not, there is something startling going on there, something relatively new to the world of American poetry. Mlinko, who is white, cites as examples in her discourse only poets of colour. Terrance Hayes, Natasha Trethewey and Claudia Rankine are, of course, very well-known African American poets, and Layli Long Soldier is a celebrated Native American ...


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