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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

AMERICAN POETRIES Jerome Mazzaro, Postmodern American Poetry (University of Illinois Press) £9.45
Charles Molesworth, The Fierce Embrace: A Study of Contemporary American Poetry (University of Missouri Press) £13.65 hb, £4.20 pb

What does Jerome Mazzaro mean by 'postmodern' and Charles Molesworth by 'contemporary' American poetry? Let us see first of all which poets they focus on. Both discuss Roethke, Plath and Berryman. Mazzaro establishes an English connection at the outset, by seeing in W.H.Auden 'the genesis of postmodernism', whereas Molesworth stays firmly American, making Roethke the father of the next generation of poets'. Mazzaro also looks at Randall Jarrell, David Ignatow and Elizabeth Bishop. Molesworth provocatively juxtaposes Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg-the one engaging in Republican retrospection, the other in Utopian prophecy, but both public and in a sense patriotic poets repelled by modern America. Molesworth also considers Frank O'Hara, Galway Kinnell, Robert Bly, Philip Levine and John Ashbery. He considers, that is, poets who, in their democracy of rhythm and register, their fragmentation and obscurity, offer an alternative or anti-poetics.

Both critics disclaim definitiveness, but each finds overall patterns linking the poets they discuss. Both stress the importance of the quest for identity; but whereas Molesworth sees the contemporary environment and the contemporary public (or lack of it) for poetry as the primary parameters of that quest, Mazzaro sees it as dominated by the personal, historical and evolutionary past. While emphasising the variousness of contemporary American poetry, Molesworth traces its development from an ironic, defensive, technically intense mode in the 1950s to an emphatic, aggressive, technically loose verse that rose to euphoric or apocalyptic extremes in the 60s but settled into a quieter key in the 70s. ...


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