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This article is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

American Responsibilities Thom Gunn

The Faber Book of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Helen Vendler (Faber) £12.50
August Kleinzahler, Storm Over Hackensack (Moyer Bell, New York) $7.95

Helen Vendler starts her anthology with an Introduction phrased in lofty terms. With 'a successful poem,' she says, 'a reader enters and joins - like Keats's spectator of the urn - the procession of forms that give access to an imagined plane of projected existence.' The rest of the Introduction is similar in style: it is high-minded and imprecise where the reader would welcome a practical summary of the tendencies at work in poetry since World War II, or perhaps an explanation of her inclusions and exclusions in this book, since many of them are not to be assented to as a matter of course. She does, however, offer an explanation of her reasons for beginning the anthology proper with Wallace Stevens. To initiate an enterprise like this with a forerunner, as a kind of patron saint to what follows, is an established procedure - I recall Yeats starting the first Oxford Book of Modern Verse with Pater, or Michael Roberts starting his Faber Book of Modern Verse with Hopkins; but since Stevens has not been that pervasive an influence today, or even yesterday, I was curious about her reasons. She acknowledges that Williams and Pound have been important for post-war poetry (how could she not?), but tells us that she chooses Stevens rather than them as 'chief link' between us and the ...


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