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This review is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

COOKED AND RAW The Swallow Anthology of New American Poetry, edited by David Yezzi (Swallow Press) £17.50

Since Robert Lowell’s famous words in his acceptance speech on the occasion of the National Book Award for Life Studies in 1960, has anything changed in American poetry? Using an opposition first formulated by the anthropologist Claude Lévi- Strauss, Lowell posited an impasse between two fundamentally opposed styles or attitudes:

Two poetries are now competing, a cooked and a raw. The cooked, marvellously expert, often seems laboriously concocted to be tasted and digested by a graduate seminar. The raw, huge blood-dripping gobbets of unseasoned experience, are dished up for midnight listeners. There is a poetry that can only be studied and a poetry that can only be declaimed, a poetry of pedantry, and a poetry of scandal.

While this dichotomy still largely holds true, I think, two things have happened to diversify it: one is the splinter into niches that wish to define a poetry of - and for - minority groups, the other is - perhaps paradoxically - an increasing sophistication across the board, often under the influence of critical theory. Thus while perceived minorities have written in all styles, both raw and cooked, it is also true that both avant-garde and mainstream have upped the game in terms of suavity and complexity. It could be that today a ‘raw’ poem would be as easily dished up to a graduate seminar, while a ‘cooked’ poem has all the immediate appeal that could be asked of a poem for a popular audience. One ...


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