Lorine Niedecker (1903–1970): Collected Works (ed. Jenny Penberthy, University of California Press, Berkeley & Oxford, 2002, 466pp, h/c, $45 – pictured above left).
As with Oppen (see below) this is a case of At last! Until this Collected appeared we had to put up with the inadequate volume From This Condensery (Jargon Society, 1985), edited by Robert Bertholf, which is full of errors and misjudgments. Niedecker was a vastly under-rated poet, whose work continued until very recently to be the preserve only of those-in-the-know. I found her work by chance as a student, purchasing the then recent Fulcrum editions of North Central and Collected Poems 1968, and the poems have lived with me ever since as a models of concision, and of how a modernist poetic can deal with nature and the empirical. Die-hard collectors should seek out the two beautiful Fulcrum editions and/or the Jargon Society edition of T & G: Collected Poems, dating from 1966—all of them superb productions that delight both eye and hand (the Fulcrum editions are pictured above). Also worth having is Jenny Penberthy's Lorine Niedecker: Woman and Poet (National Poetry Foundation, Orono, Maine, 1996—available from SPD), which contains much useful background information and some excellent studies. There is also a biography, Lorine Niedecker: A Poet's Life, by Margot Peters (Univ. of Wisonsin Press, 2011) which I have yet to see.
Frank O'Hara (1926–1966): Collected Poems (ed. Donald Allen, Knopf, New York, 1971. Republished by University of California Press, Berkeley); Selected Poems (ed. Donald Allen, Penguin, London, 1994, 230pp).
The Selected is essential, the vast Collected is strictly for devotees, amongst whom I count myself. O'Hara seemed important already when I first came across his work in 1971, but the passing years have lent greater perspective and he now appears to be one of the most singular, and important, US poets of the 20th century. No-one else writes like this and, when they try, it usually comes out as a limp pastiche. This is wonderful, exotic, free-wheeling verse of a very special kind.
Charles Olson (1910–1970): Selected Poems (ed. Robert Creeley, University of California Press, Berkeley & Oxford, 1993, 225pp. Out of print.)
Olson often gets a bad press, and often deserves it. This judicious selection shows however that there are many jewels hidden in the mass of his collected works, even in the baggy, often preposterous Maximus Poems. I'm surprised to find that this book seems to be unavailable already, but copies will be obtained easily through such outlets as www.abebooks.com. If this book does appeal, go on to Maximus and to the Collected Poems (ex-Maximus), edited by George Butterick for the University of California Press (large format, and a daunting 700pp).
George Oppen (1908–1984): New Collected Poems (ed. Michael Davidson, New Directions, New York, 2002. $37.95, h/c; Carcanet, Manchester, 2003. Pb, £14.95).
This book was so overdue it was ridiculous but, better late than never. It includes all the collections from the poet's lifetime, as well as a large number of uncollected poems. Essential for anyone with an interest in 20th century modernism or 20th century American poetry. I have a notion that Oppen and Bunting, along with Williams and Stevens, were the major English-language poets of the mid-century (by which I mean 1930 to 1970).
Michael Palmer: Notes for Echo Lake (North Point Press, San Francisco, 1981, out of print); The Lion Bridge. Selected Poems (Carcanet, Manchester; New Directions, New York); At Passages (New Directions, NY, 1995. 101pp, pb, $11.95); The Promises of Glass (New Directions, NY, 2000. 103pp, h/c, $21.95).
Under-rated in Britain, Palmer is one of the most interesting of the radical US poets who came to prominence in the 1970s. Echo Lake remains my favourite single volume, but the more recent book shows where he's going and the Selected is a good overview. I freely admit to being out of date with Palmer's work and will try to rectify this. Look out for further commentary in due course on more recent titles.
Ted Pearson: Evidence 1975–1989 (Gaz, New York, 1989. 286pp, pb. Available from SPD).
Pearson tends to be lumped together with the L=anguage Poets, and indeed has been published by small presses generally associated with those writers. This book collects ten separate small press volumes under one set of covers, and shows that Pearson's is essentially a lyric gift, albeit one operating beyond the usually recognised margins. The contents of this book get thornier as they reach the end-date of the title, but they're worth persevering with.
whose voice / has led to music // thighs / to startled / thought // defying gravity / flower / stem and root // as brain / from root arose / in thought // a flower more / to be desired.
There are some subsequent chapbooks, such as Acoustic Masks (Zasterle Press) and The Devil's Aria (Meow Press), which develop his style still further, the latter using rhyme and half-rhyme, even doggerel rhythm on occasion, in a most disconcerting way. Not one of these books includes any helpful information about the poetry or the poet, which is equally disconcerting, but the poetry's still there to be read and enjoyed.
Simon Perchik: Hands Collected. The Books of Simon Perchik. Poems 1949-1999 (ed. David Baratier, Pavement Saw Press, Columbus, OH, 2000. H/c $100, pb $30, 594pp.)
An enormous book that draws together all of Perchik's published books up to 2000 (except for Touching the Headstone, published in the same year in England by Stride), plus some 56pp of unpublished poems. Even so, there were another 250 poems uncollected by this edition, such has been the scale of this author's output. I have been a fan of his very original poetry for years, and this book is handsome recognition for a writer who pays no attention to the literary game but just gets on with his writing.
Sylvia Plath (1932–1963): Collected Poems (ed. Ted Hughes, Faber, 1981. 351pp, pb, £16.99; Harper, New York, h/c $27.95, pb $17.95); Ariel (ed. Ted Hughes, Faber, £8.99; Harper, $12).
The Plath industry continues to expand and Gwyneth Paltrow has recently played her in a movie (with Daniel Craig as Hughes). Her work is now the prisoner of analysis, both academic and psychological, and both her life and her work are used as sticks in innumerable battles. It would appear that the truth has become a casualty in this process, whatever the truth was. In amongst it all there are actually some poems, which anyone interested in modern poetry should read. For what it's worth, I think her first book The Colossus was dreadful, and I never want to read it again. The next to be published was the famous, and posthumous Ariel, edited by her estranged husband. Since the transitional poetry had not been published at that point, other than occasionally in magazines, it seemed as if this powerful demonic voice had appeared from nowhere. The development in her work (swift, it is true) demonstrated by the later posthumous collections Crossing the Water and Winter Trees, is actually very interesting and this edition of the Collected Poems makes it possible to see how it all happened, at least in terms of poetic development. Thirty-odd years after first reading Ariel, the shock now attenuated, I find those poems over-wrought and overbearing, if still sometimes powerful. I'm worried by the combination of brilliant technique with imagery gone haywire—as when she compares her treatment by husband or father to the holocaust (all of it). That worry is only increased by having heard a recording of her reading some of the Ariel poems; the reading is fluent, the delivery brilliant, but the coldness of it entrenches the rest of my negative impression. In 2005 Faber issued a new edition of Ariel (as Ariel: The Restored Text, 240pp h/c, £16.99) with the poems arranged according to the poet's last manuscript, rather than as presented by Hughes as editor, and with an intro by Frieda Hughes, the poet's daughter, plus copious notes. The texts, as well as the ordering of them, are available of course in the Collected, but there's no doubt that the new edition makes it easier to see and compare the two editions, albeit at a price.
The biographical side of things, meanwhile, is a nightmare. The best thing I've read on the whole sorry phenomenon is Janet Malcolm's study The Silent Woman (Vintage, New York, $12; Macmillan, London, £12), which is more about what goes on around the subject than it is about Plath, Hughes and company. Anne Stevenson's much-reviled (by all camps) biography Bitter Fame (Penguin, pb, £9.99) is worth reading, as long as you understand what's going on, and preferably have read Malcolm first. Personally, I found the postscripts by Dido Merwin and Richard Murphy fascinating and very uncomfortable, in a way that memoirs usually are not; in fact these two appendices are preferable to the main text, although I suppose they make little sense without the rest of the book's detail. The book is worth buying for these alone—as long as you don't want absolute truths, which are unattainable. Plath is now a myth, whether we like it or not. Read the poems, instead. And read Janet Malcolm for a voice of sanity in the whole affair. Elaine Feinstein's biography of Ted Hughes (Weidenfeld, London, 2001) is to be avoided, and I am sorry to see that a writer whom I admire—both for her prose and her poetry—could have been drawn into producing such a poor volume.
Ezra Pound (1885–1972): The Cantos (New Directions, NY, h/c & pb 824pp, $42 h/c, $23.95 pb); The Pisan Cantos (ed. Richard Sieburth; New Directions, New York, 2003. 159pp, pb, $13.95); Poems and Translations (ed. Richard Sieburth, Library of America, New York, 2003. 1,363pp, h/c, $45); Selected Poems 1908–1969 (Faber, London, 2004. 192pp, pb, £14.99; New Directions, 184pp, pb, $9.95).
Hugh Kenner: The Pound Era (University of California Press, 1992. 621pp, pb, £16.95, $24.95).
No-one should need to have The Cantos recommended and it's really only here for me to extol the virtues of the US edition (pictured above left), which is so much better printed and bound than the British one from Faber. It may well be the most ambitious failure in 20th-century poetry, but whole swathes of this book are essential reading, if you can somehow put to one side the author's dreadful politics and his puerile notions of economics and sociology, some of which, alas, inform the poems that built this mighty edifice. I'm really not sure about the later Cantos at all, and suspect them to be ragged failures rather than brave venturings into the unknown, but there's still enough to repay close attention in this huge book. Sieburth's edition of The Pisan Cantos is excellent and much to be preferred to the unedited version otherwise available. The poems need some explication and setting. You can now get all of Pound's non-Cantos output in a beautiful Library of America edition, printed on Bible paper. $45 might seem expensive, but this covers a vast amount of material, takes up less shelf space than the constituent titles (by a long way), and can in any event be obtained at a discount to the list price. A very desirable edition. I'm not certain that the Faber and New Directions editions of the Selected are the same, but you'll note the vast difference in price. And compare the price of the Faber Selected to that of the vast Collected from LoA. No contest, in my view: get the big one if you can afford it.
The late Hugh Kenner's magisterial overview of early and mid-period modernism (Pound, Eliot, Lewis, Joyce, Beckett in the main, with Pound everywhere in it, as befits the role he played) is probably the finest, most readable academic survey I have ever read. Literature and the lives of its creators thrilling? It is in this book, anyway.
Carl Rakosi: Poems 1923–1941 (ed. Andrew Crozier, Sun & Moon Press, Los Angeles, 1995. 208pp, pb, o.o.p.).
There is a Collected Rakosi from the National Poetry Foundation, which I dislike for its organisation (Rakosi's own, I should add). It is also somewhat out of date, as Rakosi continued to write until not long before his death in 2004. This Sun & Moon book is valuable in that it makes available all of the texts from Rakosi's fascinating pre-war Objectivist period in their original, unrevised form, thus allowing the reader to get a better sense of his work in its original context. A model of scholarship. Sun & Moon went out of business some years ago now, and this book is thus now only available through the used-book trade.
Pam Rehm: Small Works (Flood Editions, Chicago, 2005. 63pp, pb, $12.95).
Pam Rehm was a new figure to me, although this appears to be her fifth or sixth collection. She specialises in the short lyric, with short lines (although a short lyric can go over 4 pages here, it doesn't feel at all long). It's a very stripped-down, spare art, and one that I wish more people would explore—poets as well as readers. Small Works, and that's a splendidly multi-layered title, is a very fine volume from the ever-impressive Flood Editions. Highly recommended, and I, for one, will be hunting down the rest of her work.
Elizabeth Robinson: In the Sequence of Falling Things (Paradigm Press, Providence, RI., 1990. 93pp, h/c, $10); Bed of Lists (Kelsey St. Press, 1990. 45pp, pb, $8); House Made of Silver (Kelsey St. Press, 2000. 68pp, pb, $11); Harrow (Omnidawn Publishing, Richmond, CA, 2001. 88pp, pb, $12); Pure Descent (Sun & Moon Press, Los Angeles, 2003. 64pp, pb, $10.95); Apprehend (Fence Books / Apogee Press, 2003. 89pp, pb, $12); Apostrophe (Apogee Press, Berkeley, 2006. 76pp, pb, $14.95).
I find it hard to explain what is going on in many of the poems in these books, but have to say that I derive inordinate pleasure from each of the volumes listed. There may well be more people writing like this in the US, but there certainly aren't here in the UK. The beautiful Paradigm volume, still available at its absurdly low launch price from SPD (as are the other books) is a good place to start, a good place to begin to explore this very different world.
And quilt through recall / the intertwined
star, slept // boxes of it // as though it were / a blanket on the reverse
// an ant climbing the wall // Lord / of skin // and clashing pattern
(part 1 of the poem Creases in Houses Made of Silver).
For some reason I don't understand, the Californian Kelsey St. Press does not want to disclose the place of publication within its books. At least they have a website, and their books are all available from SPD. I will try at some later stage to think of something more intelligent to say about these volumes other than the fact that I like them a lot. I'm sure any open-minded reader will also take to them . . .
Update, April 2006: I've just received the author's latest collection, Apostrophe, which is without doubt her finest achievement to date. The air of mystery that runs through all of her work is here in spades, with the entire book revolving around an absence (suggested by one of the blurbists to be in fact a "missing or inexistent" title poem). The elegiac tone of the whole volume resonates with the theme of absence, or abandonment, and leaves this reader with a most powerful impression. Pure Descent is a more conventional collection, if anything that this poet does IS conventional. The more I read of Ms Robinson's work, the more different it seems to be, although I do find it tempting to suggest that there are a number of poets in their 30s and 40s who have developed writing styles that seem to constitute a breakaway from the conventions of previous decades—whether avant-garde conventions or the more conservative variety. One of the perennial problems of more experimental work has been that it often has less to say than it should, having fallen in love with the method of delivery rather than the message it seeks to impart. Books such as Apostrophe, and indeed the splendid Apprehend, its immediate predecessor, give the lie to that, showing a fully-developed poetic voice that can communicate, albeit with an air of intense mystery. This is really daring work, and far more so than much more obviously experimental writing.
Muriel Rukeyser (1913–1980): Collected Poems (ed. Janet E. Kaufman & Anne F. Herzog, with Jan Heller Levi; Pittsburgh University Press, 2005. isbn 0-8229-4247-X, h/c, 670pp, $37.50); Selected Poems (ed. Adrienne Rich, Library of America, New York, 2004. 180pp, h/c, $20.) Out of Silence. Selected Poems (ed. Kate Daniels, Triquarterly Books, Evanston, Ill.162pp, pb, $14.95); A Muriel Rukeyser Reader (ed. Jan Heller Levi, Norton, NY & London, 1994).
I've a shrewd suspicion that far too many readers of this page will not know who Muriel Rukeyser was. Until Eliot Weinberger's post-1950 anthology (see Anthology page for further details), she had been left out of all the summaries of innovative post-war poetry, for reasons that are unclear to me but which probably have something to do with cliques and fashions (or a dislike for the work of a lesbian Jewish proto-feminist? Alas, quite possibly so). At long last there is now a decent Collected edition of her poems. It is not a Complete Poems, however: this volume contains just about all of her work that was published in book form—and the exceptions are sensible. We will have to wait to see the uncollected published work as well as a decipherment of the unpublished manuscripts, but this essential volume fills an important gap in the history of 20th-century US poetry. Rukeyser was one of the very best, and those of you who don't know her work, but who do read the other major mid-century US poets, owe it to yourselves to get this volume.
Frank Samperi: The Prefiguration (1971); Quadrifarium (1973); Lumen Gloriae (1973).
All published by Grossman Publishers, New York, printed by Mushinsha, Tokyo, and long out of print. These three tall volumes collect 18 separate slim books and are gorgeous productions. There were several others from Mushinsha at the time, all of them exquisite publications. I've always had a soft spot for Samperi's spare poetry and these are the best books of his that I've seen.
Susan Schultz: Aleatory Allegories (Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2000. 120pp, pb, £9.99). And then Something Happened (Salt Publishing, 2004. 148pp, pb, £10.99).
Susan Schultz is now based in Hawai'i, where she edits the excellent Tinfish magazine and press. She has developed something of an academic reputation for her work on John Ashbery but, although her own poetry may show some signs of influence from that quarter, she has in fact escaped the shadow of what might have been a rather difficult influence. No-one can do what Ashbery does, not even Ashbery sometimes. There is a splendidly laconic narrative tone to the longer poems in these volumes, and Ms Schultz is blessed with a dry sense of humour that serves her very well, along with an acute ear and a sharp, observant eye. If I had to pick one of these, it would be the newer volume, but both will repay your attention.
Armand Schwerner (1927–1999): The Tablets (National Poetry Foundation, Orono, ME, 1999); Selected Shorter Poems (Junction Press, San Diego, 1999. 142pp, pb, $16).
The Tablets strikes me as one of the most successful American attempts at a very long poem, in part because it thumbs its nose at the tradition and at academic niceties as well. Supposedly a series of clay tablets recovered from the ruins of a forgotten city, and transcribed by the poet (in his guise as the 'translator-scholar'), the 'form' allows Schwerner completely free rein. It's hilarious, and it's not surprising that the only British edition (an interim version) came from Atlas Press, which specialises in surrealism. The NPF edition includes a CD of Schwerner reading large parts of the sequence. The Selected proves, as some of us already knew, that Schwerner was a hugely talented lyric poet too. Both books should be in any self-respecting poetry library.
Charles Simic: Somewhere Among Us a Stone is Taking Notes (Kayak Press, 1969); Dismantling the Silence (Braziller, NY; Cape, London, 1971); Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk (Braziller, NY, 1974).
All of these are out of print. The Kayak book is a lovely example of the 1960s' small-press scene in the US, and some of the poems turn up in Dismantling, his first UK publication. Simic has now published a vast number of books, few of them with the power and originality shown in these earlier volumes. I can't help liking a poet who gives his poems titles such as To All Hog-raisers, My Ancestors and Concerning My Neighbours, The Hittites. It's a little too easy to draw parallels with Vasko Popa, whom Simic has translated, but I'm sure there's some influence in there; maybe it's just that Simic's Serbian origins and bilingualism set him apart from other contemporary US poets, but he doesn't write like any of the others.
Gary Snyder: Myths and Texts; The Back Country; Regarding Wave (all New Directions, NY). Mountains and Rivers Without End (Counterpoint, Washington, DC, 1996. 164pp, h/c, $20, pb $13.50). The Gary Snyder Reader (Counterpoint, 1999. 614pp, h/c, $35, pb $18); Danger on Peaks (Shoemaker & Hoard, Washington, D.C., 2004; h/c, 112pp, $22).
I still love Snyder's earlier books, up to and including Regarding Wave, but have problems with just about every book after that, prose or poetry. Mountains & Rivers is the long sequence that he started in 1956, parts of which were published by Fulcrum in the 60s and by Four Seasons Foundation in 1970. It's of variable quality but well worth having. The Reader is useful, if somewhat irritating in places—it has too many of the later uninteresting prose pieces for my taste. For the collectors amongst you, the Fulcrum Press (London) editions of A Range of Poems and The Back Country are exquisite, especially in their hardcover versions. In the case of Range, the first edition (1966) is the more attractively presented, being in a brown-paper wrapper, rather than the white used in the second edition (1967). The '66 edition is pictured above. In 2004 Snyder followed up his fine Mountains & Rivers volume with Danger on Peaks, which I have to say is his finest collection since the early 1970s. There are a few poems here that are unworthy of him, but, by and large, this is a very fine book indeed. So that confounds my analysis of his career completely. I'm glad he's back.
Gustaf Sobin (1935–2005): Collected Poems (Talisman House, Jersey City, NJ, 2010. 756pp, pb, $27.95, isbn 978-1584980728), The Earth As Air (New Directions, NY, 1984. 103pp, pb, $7.25); Voyaging Portraits (New Directions, NY, 1988. 121pp, pb, $9.95); Breath's Burials (New Directions, NY, 1995. 101pp, pb, $11.95); By the Bias of Sound. Selected Poems 1974-1994 (Talisman House, Jersey City, NJ, 1995. 169pp, pb, $13.95); Towards the Blanched Alphabets (Talisman House, 1998. 123pp, h/c & pb, $12.95); In the Name of the Neither (Talisman House, 2002. 57pp, pb, $14.95); In the Name of the Neither (Talisman House, 2002, 57pp, $14.95); The Places as Preludes (Talisman House, 2005, 76pp, $14.95).
I make no apology for the long listing here. Sobin, who passed away in April 2005, was one of the great contemporary masters, and his work needs to be more widely appreciated. Some of the earlier volumes are out of print, but will be obtainable through second-hand dealers. The Selected also covers the long out-of-print Montemora volumes that predated the author's move to New Directions, and is therefore worth having even you already have the other individual volumes. You can of course now acquire the large Collected, which compresies all the individual collections, barring those that were outsude the main run of the author's work—I'm thinking of 2 volumes from Cadmus Editions in particular. Buy this and wallow in the ecstatic communings of one of the most original voices in late 20th-century American poetry. Just to be awkward, there are also two small-press editions which remain outside the books assembled above: Sicilian Miniatures (Cadmus Editions, San Francisco, 1986: 200 copies, privately distributed—but copies have turned up in the antiquarian trade), and Articles of Light & Elation (Cadmus, 1998, 50pp, $15—there is also a signed limited edition of which I have no details). I should also point out that the Collected, fine as it is, includes no uncollected work at all, and is thus merely an interim edition. It does however bring a lot of out-of-print work back into the catalogue.
If you develop a fascination with this poet's work, as a number of connoisseurs have been, you would do well to look also for his fiction, his essays and his translation of Michaux (the Ideograms in China volume is now available from New Directions in a mass-market edition for the first time). The essays are in Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc (University of California Press, 1999. 247pp, pb, $24.95); the novels are Venus Blue (Bloomsbury, London, 1991, out of print); Dark Mirrors (Bloomsbury, 1992, o.o.p.); The Fly-Truffler (Bloomsbury, 1999, h/c £14.95; Norton, New York, 1999, pb, $12); In Pursuit of a Vanishing Star (Norton, NY, 2002, pb, $13.95). All of these books are worth your time, and the essays provide some particularly useful underpinning for the recurring imagery of the poems. A posthumous collection of essays, Ladder of Shadows, has appeared from UCP (pb, $19.95), as has a very final slim volume (Aura: Last Essays; Counterpath Press, 2009, pb, $14.95) containing the few completed pieces that the author had intended for a third collection of essays, together with a tantalising list of the pieces that were never written.
Wallace Stevens (1879–1955): Collected Poetry & Prose (Library of America, New York, 1997. 1,032 pp, h/c, $35).
This is listed because it's an essential book and a beautiful production on bible paper, not unlike the French Pléiade editions. Way, way preferable to the Faber or FSG editions, where you need three volumes to get the same contents. Shearsman, of course, has its origins here.
John Taggart: Pastorelles (Flood Editions, Chicago, 2004. 104pp, pb, $13.95).
Taggart's best collection (at least, of the books that I've seen), and another fine volume from the excellent Flood Editions. This is a kind of American pastoral poetry with a finely-tuned musical ear. Quite startlingly different from most US poetry that I see, and a most welcome arrival on the shelves.
John Tagliabue: The Doorless Door (Grossman,NY, 1970, out of print); New and Selected Poems: 1942–1997 (National Poetry Foundation, Orono, ME, 1997. 388pp, pb, $19.95 / h/c $50).
I'd had The Doorless Door for years, treasuring its delightful oriental-style poems and exquisite Japanese production by Mushinsha (also see Frank Samperi above), but never came across Tagliabue again until I spotted the NPF volume in an American bookstore. It transpires that he only published one other book after Door, called The Great Day, which appeared from a publisher I've never heard of in a place I've never heard of. So it often is with small presses. In the end we have the NPF to thank for rescuing their fellow Maine resident from total obscurity, although I confess myself surprised. It's typical of the fact that this poetry is utterly unclassifiable that it has attracted praise (carried here on the back cover) from Amy Clampitt AND Denise Levertov, as strange a pairing as you're likely to find.
Nathaniel Tarn: Selected Poems 1950–2000 (Wesleyan UP, Middletown, CT, 2002. 356pp, pb, $19.95 / h/c $45. Also available in the UK); Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers (New Directions, New York, 2008, pb, 144pp, $16.95, isbn 978-0811217989); Avia (Shearsman Books, 2008, pb, 304pp, £13.95 / $25).
The Selected is a fine survey of a life's work, which brings back into print a lot of work that has been unobtainable for some time, and never easily obtainable in the UK. It has been followed by an excellent volume from New Directions, and it's good to see Tarn back in the hands of a major independent press, which has last published him in the 70s, with the extraordinary Lyrics for the Bride of God. Individual collections that should be sought out from second-hand dealers are The Beautiful Contradictions (Cape / Random House, 1969); A Nowhere for Vallejo (Cape / Random House, 1970); Lyrics for the Bride of God (Cape / New Directions, New York, 1972); The House of Leaves (Black Sparrow, Santa Barbara, 1975);The Desert Mothers (Salt-Works Press, Grenada, Miss., 1984); At The Western Gates (Tooth of Time Books, Santa Fe, NM,1985); Three Letters from the City: The St Petersburg Poems (Weaselsleeves Press, Santa Fe, NM, 2001—available via SPD) and last, but not least, an interim selection of his US-period poetry from Shearsman & Oasis, Palenque (1985—not for sale in the USA), which is not entirely displaced by the new volume, unless you already have the individual volumes from which it selects. Tarn is a questing kind of poet, who shares an outlook on life with a number of other figures who came to the fore in the 60s, mostly in the US. His kind of poetry is really rather unfashionable today, which says more about the idiocy of fashion than it does about his poetry, which remains hugely enjoyable, and instructive. The Selected includes 40 pages of previously uncollected work, which makes it indispensible even if you do have all the individual volumes.
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963): The Collected Poems (2 vols, New Directions, NY & Carcanet, Manchester). Paterson (revised edition ed. Christopher MacGowan, New Directions, 1992); Selected Poems (ed. Charles Tomlinson, Penguin).
Once again, these are books that everyone interested in 20th-century poetry should own, but to this day many in Britain do not take Williams seriously enough. Paterson is something of a mess, but is worth the effort. The late poems in Vol 2 of the Collected are astonishing, but the whole corpus of his work is worth a lot of any reader's time. Go back to Spring and All in Vol. 1, if you don't believe me. For a short(er) introduction, Tomlinson's sympathetic Penguin selection is a good and relatively cheap place to start.
Elizabeth Willis: The Human Abstract (Penguin USA, 1995. 83pp, pb, $12.95. Meteoric Flowers (Wesleyan UP, 2006. 94pp, $13.95 pb; $22.95 h/c)
Not an exhaustive list by any means, and there is one significant volume (Turneresque) missing, as it's not currently on my shelves, although I thought it was.... So I have two books a decade apart, both of which, it seems to me, should be in any collection of modern American poetry. This is poetry at its most serious, but it is also enchanting, A dazzling surface that has depths that you just want to plumb ever deeper into. I'd start with the new book and then work backwards. The journey is an absolute joy.
C.D. Wright: Tremble (Ecco Press, NY, 1996. 60pp, $12).
Beautiful lyrics and some of the best love poems I've read in years.
Deepstep Come Shining (Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA., 1998. 104pp, pb, $14.)
This is something else, as they say. A long poem in verse and prose, with multiple intercut voices, a magnificent eye for detail, and imagery to kill for. An extraordinary book.
Steal Away. Selected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002. 233pp, h/c $25. Isbn 1-55659-172-1).
A very exciting book, and the only way you're going to be able to find the author's earlier work, as everything before Tremble is out of print. Pages 14 through 147 here come from those earlier books. The range of styles and the quality of the writing are both quite startling, making this a good place to start exploring this very singular author's work. There appears to be no paperback edition, though it must be said that the hardcover edition is beautifully printed and good value for its cover price.
Louis Zukofsky (1904–1978): The Complete Short Poetry (Johns Hopkins UP, 1991, out of print); A Test of Poetry.
Time to own up: I can't deal with Zukofsky's epic A, which is why it's not listed. The shorter poems are much more effective for me, and the Test is a far better reading guide than Pound's rather different ABC. The hsort poems have been published a couple of times, most recently by a university press but they're out of print again. The Complete Short Poetry was the only edition that really was ALL, as the earlier books of short poems were called. There used to be a nice cheap paperback from Norton which had everything up to 1964, but this meant you missed some fine later poems. Since both books are out of print anyway, it's a simply a question of which is available on the second-hand network and at what price. Assuming price is not an issue, go for this one, as it has the complete Catullus translations as well as the fascinating late work, 80 Flowers, previously only available in an expensive bibliophile edition. The book includes two stray poems, one from 1922 and the other from 1978, the year of Zukofsky's death, which suggests that either there are a whole lot of unpublished mss somewhere, or he destroyed them. Surely he didn't publish all but two of his shorter poems? It would be interesting to know.