The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English

The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English

The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English

The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English


The first and only comprehensive work of its kind, The Companion to Twentieth Century Poety in English charts the development of poetry from 1900 to the present, across the whole of the English-speaking world, from the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland to New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, Trinidad and Zimbabwe--anywhere where poets write in English. Alphabetically arranged for ease of reference, it offers biographical entries on some 1,500 individual poets, as well as over one hundred entries covering important magazines, movements, literary terms and concepts. As readable as it is comprehensive, the Companion offers a fascinating survey of this century's shift from 'poetry' to 'poetries,' as American and British traditions of poetry have made way for a growing diversity of voices, and as the burgeoning poetries of Australia, Canada, and other English-speaking countries assert their own identities. The range of poets represented in this Companion is extraordinary. Here are in-depth discussions of Yeats, Eliot, Pound, and Joyce alongside provocative assessments of W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore. John Ashbery, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, and Mary Oliver are accounted for, as well as Carolyn Forche, David Bottoms, Jorie Graham, and many other younger poets just coming into prominence. Chinua Achebee, Jack Mapanje, Femi Oyebode and other important African poets writing in English are here, as well as poets from the Caribbean, India, and even Russia. Readers will relish this Companion's many insightful contributions from celebrated poet-critics, writing on other poets in intriguing author-subject combinations. For example, Seamus Heaney writes on Robert Lowell ("Lowell had invented a way of getting at life, of making poetry kick and freak at the edge of contemporary reality"), Ann Stevenson discusses Sylvia Plath ("In the quarter-century following her suicide, Sylvia Plath has become a heroine and martyr of the feminist movement. In fact, she was a martyr mainly to the recurrent psychodrama that staged itself within the bell jar of her tragically wounded personality"), and Tom Paulin weighs in on Ted Hughes ("His appointment as Poet Laureate in 1984 sealed his essentially shaman-like conception of his poetic mission and enabled him to speak out on environmental issues while celebrating royal weddings and babies"). Other pairings include Jay Parini on Wallace Stevens, Jon Stallworthy on Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brook, and William H. Pritchard on Robert Frost and Randall Jarrell. Each entry includes a wealth of biographical and bibliographical information, and a select bibliography at the end of the book supplies a handy source of information on poets whose work is not otherwise in print, or readily available to readers. From Abse and Auden to Zaturenska and Zukofsky, The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English is an essential reference for students, lovers of poetry, and for poets themselves.


This Companion is offered both as a reference work and as a history, a map of modern poetry in English. It may be thought that the territory has already been well mapped, in anthologies and textbooks, but I can think of no other single- volume publication that runs from 1900 to the present day and covers topics, movements, magazines, and genres as well as individual poets, dead and alive.

Over the five years that I have worked on the Companion I have more than once paused to remind myself how speedily such maps can change, how fashions rise and dive. Imagine a similar compilation put together in, say, 1950. Dylan Thomas would have had more space than he gets here, and so too would Nicholas Moore, Karl Shapiro, Sidney Keyes, and other big-name figures of that time. Surrealism would have bulked larger, and there would have been a more tender deference to periodicals like Poetry Quarterly and Poetry London. The precise contours would of course have depended on who had done the mapping, but the general shape would surely have reflected the epoch's taste for the florid and religiose, its lack of any real interest in technique, its suspicion that the political poets of the 1930s had somewhat let the side down, and so on.

Ten years later, the map would have changed again, with Auden and Empson restored to favour. We would note a new respect for the output of the American academies and for those writers of the 1940s who had kept their wits about them and not turned to God, or Jung. Overall, there would have been more braininess than ecstasy, more common sense than communal subconscious. In covering these bygone decades, I have tried to keep in mind some notion of how things must have seemed then, and to balance this against what I take to be history's subsequent or current valuation. At the same time, I have been wary of the passage- of-time school of literary judgement. It isn't true that 'if it's good, it will survive'; someone, somewhere has to keep saying that it's good--or if not good, exactly, then at least worthy of a small piece of the historical jigsaw, the map. There are poets discussed in this Companion who would probably not get into any 'up-to- date' anthology of modern verse. Their inclusion, though, should not be viewed as merely archivistic. Who knows how things will look in ten years' time?

Perhaps the first thing to be confessed of this 1994 Companion is that it comes from England (or Britain: 'England', in this introduction, should be taken to mean the United Kingdom as a whole). Forty years ago this would not have seemed like much of a confession; after all, the book is meant to be about poetry in English, is it not? Indeed, when I imagined a pre-1960 version of it, I automatically did the imagining in terms of poetry in England, with only parenthetical . . .

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