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This review is taken from PN Review 110, Volume 22 Number 6, July - August 1996.

A PRENICIOUS MODERN NUISANCE The Columbia Anthology ofAmerican Poetry, edited by Jay Parini (Columbia) £21.50The Forward Book of Poetry 1996 (Forward) £6.95Voices of Conscience, edited by Hume Cronyn, Richard McKane & Stephen Watts (Iron) £12.99CD Poets 2 (Bellew) £14.95 The Third Day, edited by Kathy Miles (Gomer) £10.95The Oxford Book of Creatures, edited by Fleur Adcock & Jacqueline Sims (Oxford) £17.99

The anthology, as Thom Gunn has unanswerably complained, is 'a pernicious modern nuisance which keeps readers away from books of poetry'. One he especially dislikes, because it lends the appearance of canonical authority to a flawed and subjective editorial selection, is Helen Vendler's Harvard Book of Contemporary Poetry: and the new Columbia Anthology of American Poetry, edited by Jay Parini, presents much the same sort of problem. It isn't just that the spectrum of American poetry - from the 'open' heirs of Whitman to the 'closed' hymn-book rhythms of the Emily Dickinson tradition - may prove too broad for any single editorial taste to judge with authority; it's also that so many important writers are to be found near the margins, where a focus as resolutely centred as Parini's may miss them. He has a stab, certainly, at the 'open' side - Charles Olson and Robert Duncan are both here, but Edward Dorn astonishingly not - but is hopeless with the sharp epigrammatic edge of the 'closed': Yvor Winters is barely represented, Edgar Bowers and J.V. Cunningham excluded entirely. (And, while on the matter of inclusion and exclusion, what exactly constitutes Americanness? If Denise Levertov, born in Ilford, is an American, why isn't Auden or -for that matter - Gunn?)

Well, there are only so many pages, 757 as it happens, and you can't have everything. What you do get, for a start, is a reminder that there were American poets between Anne Bradstreet and Ralph WaIdo ...


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