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This review is taken from PN Review 135, Volume 27 Number 1, September - October 2000.

OLD BOYS OF RIVAL SCHOOLS RICHARD WILBUR, Mayflies. New Poems and Translations (Harcourt) $22.00
KENNETH KOCH, New Addresses (Alfred A. Knopf) $23.00

Richard Wilbur (b. 1921) and Kenneth Koch (b. 1925) are near contemporaries whose distinguished, outward careers - many books, many honours, academic positions - could be interchangeable but whose verse has not had much in common. For instance, they were on opposite sides of the big debate in the late 1950s as to what (The New American Poetry) or who (The New Poets of Britain and America) constituted the 'new' American poetry, newness being defined as both people and style. While young, the poets associated with The New Poets could be called the 'old new formalists' and numbered Wilbur along with Hecht, Nemerov, Lowell and Merrill among others; the volume was edited by Robert Frost. The New American Poetry was the counter-establishment and its poets numbered Koch and the rest of the New York School as well as Ginsburg, Charles Olsen, and LeRoi Jones among its aggregation. As in most such cultural combats which seem so important at the time, neither side in retrospect can be said to have 'won' and both have benefitted from the dialogue and debate or even from the sense of competition. Critics who argue furiously for or against, say, the new 'new' formalism or for poetry's political purpose might want to consider occasionally the long view: that ultimately it is the cultural 'market' which decides whose work stands up to repeated reading across time. Of course, perhaps the next devolving step after the egregious poetry slams is that poets will actually try to knock ...


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