New Poetry Anthology

Writing for the NYTBR, William Logan is not entirely pleased with the choices that David Lehman made for The Oxford book of American Poetry:

The dirty secret of American poetry is that until Whitman and Dickinson it was no damn good, and until the modernists it was not good again. It takes only 10 pages for the new “Oxford Anthology of American Poetry,” edited by David Lehman, to get through the 17th century, and 10 more for the 18th. The whole 19th century takes fewer than 200, and half that is devoted to Whitman and Dickinson. After that, for 900 pages, it is one long diet of the 20th century.

Lehman, though a poet himself, is better known as editor of the annual series “The Best American Poetry” and author of “Signs of the Times,” an attack on deconstructive literary theory. “The Oxford Book of American Verse,” as it was first known, was edited by the distinguished scholar F. O. Matthiessen in 1950 and, as “The New Oxford Book of American Verse,” revised by the equally distinguished Richard Ellmann in 1976. Lehman’s introduction, a good deal of it a defense against his predecessors, lives in a prose world where assumptions are governing, essays seminal and stock always goes sky-high. He’s proud of what he calls the “widening of focus” here, though it’s hard to see why this isn’t just “out of focus” by another name. Matthiessen, as Lehman notes, included 51 poets, and Ellmann 78; Lehman has 210, nearly a quarter of them born between 1940 and 1950. This grotesquely overrates the wartime and baby-boom generation, still an amorphous crowd of genial talent through which Lehman offers no path.

Read it here.

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