Books: A Century Later, and It's Time to Make It New Again the Harvill Book of Twentieth Century Poetry in English Ed Michael Schmidt Harvill Pounds 20
Burckhardt, Olivier, The Independent (London, England)
Michael Schmidt is eminently well-suited to take the measure of the changes and vicissitudes that brought poetry to its current modern character. As editor of PN Review, one of the best UK poetry magazines, he is well aware that poetry has become a marginal art with a small and specialised audience. But of even greater importance than a sober attitude to the subject is the way he forgoes the cult of the poet, or clique of poets, and concentrates on the poetry itself.
This anthology of nearly 800 poems takes the whole of the English- speaking world into account. As Schmidt writes in the introduction, the aim has been "to select poems which engage a reader solely because of what they do with language, regardless of subject matter or the orientation of the poet. It is a book of poems, not of poets."
The contention behind this book - that "there is a continuity between the radical experimental poets and those who are usually presented as mainstream" - is more than eloquently proven in these 700 pages. The majority of the 118 voices represented here will be familiar even to those who read little or no poetry. The selection ranges from individual long poems such as Allen Ginsberg's "Howl", as mesmerising in its breathlessness as when it first came out in 1955- 56, to shorter poems from such established names as Robert Graves, W H Auden and Ted Hughes, as well as more obscure figures like the Pulitzer Prize-winner Louise Gluck, whose poems weave the trivialities of domestic life with the drama and epiphanies of human existence.
The material is presented in chronological order by birthdate of the poet, beginning with Thomas Hardy (born 1840) and ending with Sophie Hannah (born 1971). Although this was probably the simplest arrangement, given that the activity of some poets spanned many decades or started late in life, it does not mean that the individual poems are in sequence. The date of first publication would have helped place the poems within their historical context, as well as within the general development of poetry itself.
Of the several trends that have characterised the poetry of the 20th century, Modernism is the label that has stuck the most persistently. The turn of the century brought with it a call for radical transformation.
The revolutionary ferment that took place in poetry, as in the other arts, notably in music and painting, began with a rejection of all that was felt to be antiquated. Ossified rules and set patterns of metre and rhyme were only the superficial aspects to be cast away; deeper and more fundamental revisions were called for in the language as well as the subject matter of poetry. Above all, Modernism turned away from the external towards an inner landscape, one where the sense of crisis and turmoil of the century could be …
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Publication information: Article title: Books: A Century Later, and It's Time to Make It New Again the Harvill Book of Twentieth Century Poetry in English Ed Michael Schmidt Harvill Pounds 20. Contributors: Burckhardt, Olivier - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 25, 1999. Page number: 11. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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