New, Newer, and Newest Americian Poetries

By Golding, Alan | Chicago Review, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

New, Newer, and Newest Americian Poetries

Golding, Alan, Chicago Review

"KOALA - To survive you have to be willing to do anything. Anthologies! That's where the money really is, or might be. At least so I imagine from my fuzzy animal distance. Reprint the material! Dominate the gene pool! Rise like Godzilla and make them read you for fucking ever!"

-Bob Perelman, "The Manchurian Candidate: a remake"

The avant-garde, we're told, is, at least in theory, dead. Meanwhile, the poetic "mainstream" is commonly argued to have become so diverse and democratically inclusive as to be unlocatable, unrecognizable as a mainstream. This same historical moment, however, with its purported all-inclusiveness that would render the notion of an avant-garde meaningless, has brought the publication of five selfconsciously avant-garde anthologies of American poetry within a few years of each other: Eliot Weinberger's American Poetry Since 1950: Innovators and Outsiders (1993); Douglas Messerli's From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry, 1960-1990; Paul Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology; Dennis Barone and Peter Ganick's The Art of Practice: 45 Contemporary Poets (all 1994); and Leonard Schwartz, Joseph Donahue and Edward Foster's Primary Trouble: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (1996).1 What especially interests me in our current situation, and in these texts specifically, is the apparent re-emergence of a version of the late-1950s and early-1960s anthology wars, as anthology editors are once again unapologetically using terms like "avant-garde," "center," "mainstream," and so on.

Does this return of anthology wars rhetoric represent merely the flogging of a dead socio-aesthetic horse? Jed Rasula, for one, argues that it does. He finds Weinberger and J. D. McClatchy, editor of The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry (New York: Vintage, 1990), for instance, "waging a massively retrospective combat"-a combat centered on "nostalgic invocations of the 1960 anthology wars, with the editors cavorting about in period dress like history buffs reenacting the battle of Gettysburg" (1996, 449).2 Rasula has a point here; it's no longer 1960. But if this debate is so outdated, why has its rhetoric returned to anthologies of innovative poetry in the mid-1990s? What function does that rhetoric serve now? Aside from maintaining a good deal of historically descriptive power, it is being used by contemporary editors to further the development or construction of a New American Poetry tradition derived from Donald Allen's influential 1960 anthology of that name-a text that these editors both explicitly and implicitly invoke. In turn, connection to The New American Poetry becomes a way for editors to situate historically and even help authorize contemporary avant-garde writing. The construction of this New American tradition via recent anthologies - especially in the rhetoric or self-presentation of these texts, rather than their structure, contents, and so forth-is my subject in this essay.3

Rasula is right to point out the limitations of what I would call the center-margin model that shapes both my chosen anthologies, in their different ways, and to some extent my analysis of them. One such limitation is the risk of a too-easy and falsely stable binarism. Weinberger and Hoover, for instance, both tend to assume that mainstream poetic practice and ideology is monolithic and that "we" know it when we see it. As Hank Lazer suggests, however, this reduction of poetic variety to an allegedly monolithic mainstream is itself a "rhetorical straw man of the (similarly multiple) avant-garde" (1996, 136). Nevertheless, if we think of "center," "mainstream," and "margin" as cultural locations that are in process rather than fixed, these misleadingly topographical metaphors can retain some analytic usefulness. If I seem both to suggest the inadequacy of a center-margin model and also depend on it for understanding patterns in recent anthologies, my point is that this model is growing more complex rather than collapsing completely. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

New, Newer, and Newest Americian Poetries


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.