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This review is taken from PN Review 15, Volume 7 Number 1, September - October 1980.

DIDACTIC MASTERS The Poet's Work: 29 Masters of 20th Century Poetry on the Origins and Practice of Their Art, edited by Reginald Gibbons (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company) $6.95

The material here collected is divided into two parts. In the first part, 'Origins: The Sources and Motives of Poetry', we have fifteen poets discussing their vocation, variously interpreted. In the second, 'The Poet's Work', there are fourteen poets discussing their craft, not an easy conception either. The fact that no poet appears in both sections perhaps indicates the difficulty of the demarcation. Yeats, Eliot and Pound have been left out, for the good reason that what they have said is easily accessible. The poets included are from eight or nine languages, but a dozen of them are Americans-an imbalance which may be justified by the fact that it is in America that the habit of talking about poetry is most widely diffused. Alas!

'Until our century', says Reginald Gibbons in his preface, 'comparatively few poets have bothered to leave any account at all of their own writing. The self-consciousness of the poet, however, appears to have increased markedly in the modern era, and in our own time there has been a prodigious outpouring of documents recording the attitudes, or perhaps we may call them beliefs, of poets in many languages. Poetic self-scrutiny has become a frequent and expected adjunct to the writing of poems, most recently in the form of the interview.' Quite so. A little overdone, perhaps? Or even greatly so? The suspicion seems hardly to have entered Mr. Gibbons's head. Yet it does demand some thought, and while it would be wrong to complain ...


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