Anthologies

Keith Tuma (ed): Anthology of Twentieth-Century British & Irish Poetry (Oxford University Press, New York, 2001, 941pp. H/c $70, £65.99; Pb $45, £29.99).

The best one-volume survey, and the cause of much enraged commentary in certain mainstream journals, some of it, alas, revolving around the distress felt by certain British reviewers that an American should have the temerity to edit such a volume (and presumably also because the said reviewer(s) were left out of the book). A very pluralist selection produced for the US, but technically also available in the UK, if you ask nicely. Given the UK hardback price, it's safe to assume that OUP expects nothing but library sales for that version. To be frank, I have a number of disagreements with the selection of younger names here, but, on the other hand, I don't think I've ever found an anthology of up-and-coming poets that I did agree with.

 

Richard Caddel & Peter Quartermain (eds): Other: British & Irish Poetry Since 1970 (Wesleyan University Press, 1999, 280pp. Pb, £17.95, $22.95. H/c $45).

A corrective anthology covering the contribution to contemporary poetry of the more experimental writers in the islands. Good of its kind and it is available in the UK, at least in paperback.

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew Crozier & Tim Longville (eds): A Various Art (Carcanet, Manchester, 1987. 377pp, h/c, £14.95; Pb, £6.95).

Essentially a partisan anthology of the writers associated with the Ferry Press and the Grosseteste Review, plus a couple of friends. Wonderful poetry throughout, but an introduction would have been useful. In common with Conductors of Chaos (see below), this is one of the very few anthologies to have managed to include J H Prynne, who tends to decline such invitations. A Paladin paperback edition came and went, but the original is still to be had, along with a paperback version.

 

Iain Sinclair (ed): Conductors of Chaos (Picador, London, 1996. 488pp. Out of print.)

The one before Other, but the last real attempt by a major UK publisher and 'name' editor to correct the prevailing view of what constitutes the best of contemporary British poetry. Sinclair was associated with the Ferry / Grosseteste poets anthologised in A Various Art, and includes many of them here, alongside five forebears, brought in as rescue operations or hommages. (They are J F Hendry, W S Graham, David Jones, David Gascoyne and Nicholas Moore). It remains an interesting document, given Sinclair's somewhat broader view of the current alternative scene than is usual in such books.

 

Nicholas Johnson (ed): foil : defining poetry 1985-2000 (etruscan books, Buckfastleigh, 2000, 393pp, £6.95, $19.95).

Weird selection but there's enough good material to warrant serious attention. Subtitled defining poetry 1985-2000, which is over-egging it somewhat, the book includes fascinating work by Helen Macdonald, Alison Flett, Harriet Tarlo and Karlien van den Beukel. I rather like Meg Bateman's work too, though she looks out of place here, and I can't help wondering if the original Gaelic isn't perhaps more effective. When she reads it aloud, the originals have much more sonic force, as you would probably expect. The book is in the shape of a CD, but slightly bigger.

 

Paul Green (ed): Ten British Poets (Spectacular Diseases, Peterborough, 1993. 134pp, pb).

This was a very good little guide to some under-recognised writers, and it remains a model of its kind. Copies are likely to be still around, and might be available from publisher Paul Green at 83b London Road, Peterborough PE2 9BS, England. The poets are Peter Larkin, Gavin Selerie, Nigel Wheale, Rod Mengham, Andrew Duncan, Michael Ayres, Paul King, Nicholas Johnson, D S Marriott and Ian Taylor. The selection was prescient.

 

Alice Oswald (ed): The Thunder Mutters (Faber & Faber, London, 2005. 218pp, h/c, £12.99).

An absolutely splendid anthology of '101 Poems for the Planet', and Ms Oswald stays unpredictable throughout an excellent selection of material which makes up a very readable volume. Poems from all periods, from both sides of the Atlantic, from the famous and from the unknown, it is an anthology that is both a pleasure to read and one which offers discoveries—which is what anthologies need to do. I don't usually like thematic anthologies but this one is well worth your time, and mine.

 

 

Ronald Black (ed): An Tuil: Anthology of 20th-Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (Polygon, Edinburgh, 1999, pb, 825pp, £19.99).

Bilingual and all-encompassing. It's a strange read though, as it's obvious from the introduction that there are all kinds of disagreements and factions within the Gaelic literary world, and I find it very odd to have the poets listed not just with their dates, but also the exact location of their origin. I suppose there will be dialect differences to be explained thus. When was the last time you saw an anthology of English verse saying 'John Doe (Market Harborough)' at the head of the selection? On balance, a valuable book, but I've no idea how much it reflects the real situation or whether any axes are being ground. Given the lack of an alternative volume, this will do fine in reminding English readers that there's something happening up north. Something similar for Welsh poetry would be useful.

 

Eliot Weinberger (ed): American Poetry Since 1950 (Marsilio, New York, 1993, 433pp, $40).

Essentially, this is an update of the pathbreaking Donald Allen anthology. Nothing much new here, but a valuable summation of what's what, as long as you don't think that Robert Lowell was the presiding genius of the period in question, in which case you'll likely think you've got the wrong book. Strangely, this started life as an anthology for the Mexican market, with all the texts translated. Along the way William Bronk went missing from the book—a dispute of some kind. The original, for those with a bibliographic interest in these things, is Una Antología de la poesía norteamericana desde 1950 (Ediciones del Equilibrista, Mexico City). The thing I like best about the book is that so many of my favourite poems turn up. An indispensable Greatest Hits volume.

 

Lisa Jarnot, Leonard Schwartz, Chris Stroffolino (eds): An Anthology of New (American) Poets (Talisman House, Jersey City, NJ, 1998. Pb, 354pp, $21.95).

Very interesting guide to some of what's new in the US, which proves there's life out there despite the predations of the New Formalism on one side and Langpo on the other. 36 poets are included, exactly half of them women. Standouts are Elizabeth Willis, Susan Schultz, Lisa Jarnot, Jennifer Moxley and those are just the women. It's all worth reading.

 

 

Leonard Schwartz, Joseph Donahue, Edward Foster (eds): Primary Trouble: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (Talisman House, Jersey City, NJ, 1996. H/c, 498pp, $45.95; Pb $24.95).

Interesting mix of writers. Some expected, some unexpected, some obscure. No run-of-the-mill Langpo, though, thank goodness. Aesthetically this book stakes out similar territory to that covered in Edward Foster's excellent Talisman magazine: post-post-war innovative, communicative, questing, and resolutely not beholden to any of the major current cliques, self-appointed or otherwise.

 

 

American Poetry: The Twentieth Century. Volumes 1 & 2 (Library of America, New York, h/c, 984pp & 1,004pp, $35 each).

The 'editorial board' consists of Robert Hass, John Hollander, Carolyn Kizer, Nathaniel Mackey and Marjorie Perloff, which must have been the cause of a few disagreements. Vol. 1 is Henry Adams to Dorothy Parker (sic), Vol. 2, e.e. cummings to May Swenson, which suggests that we still have a third (& fourth?) volume to come. The fact that there was an editorial decision to welcome all factions means that the primary aim of the anthologist—definition of the important—has gone by the board. On the other hand, there are several poets in these two volumes that I read for the first time and enjoyed, which is what I want from an anthology of this kind: discoveries. I was a little taken aback to find Broadway songs and blues lyrics in the book too, but why not? Me and the Devil Blues is better with Robert Johnson's guitar, of course, but this reprint sent me back to the CD again.

 

Donald Allen (ed): The New American Poetry 1945-1960 (with new afterword) (University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles & London, 1999. 479pp, pb, $19.95, £13.95 Isbn 0-520-20953-2).

This new edition of the most groundbreaking anthology of the second half of the 20th century in the English language has been made available by UCP, and is still worth having, even though many of the writers included are caught as if in freeze-frame at an early point in their careers. It remains a fascinating document, and not just a historical one.

 

 

John Tranter (ed): The New Australian Poetry (Makar Press, St. Lucia, Qld; 1979, 2nd ed. 1980).

Probably obtainable through second-hand dealers, this is an excellent guide to the new wave of innovative Australian poets from the 60s and 70s, and has a good deal of useful commentary that will help outsiders understand what is (was) going on. Those still living are amongst the most significant current Antipodean poets, and posterity has rewarded the editor with a number of bullseyes.

 

 

John Tranter & Philip Mead (eds): The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry (Bloodaxe, Newcastle, 1994, out of print).

UK edition of the 1991 Australian Penguin Book of... Covers the whole history of its subject and finishes with Kate Lilley (b. 1960) and John Kinsella (b. 1963). An eye-opening book, but non-Australian readers could have done with a more extensive introduction to put things in perspective.

 

 

 

Jenny Bornholdt, Gergory O'Brien & Mark Williams (eds): An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry (Oxford UP, 1997, out of print?).

Note the careful title. This is organised in roughly reverse order of the poets' first appearance, so the newest names come first, organised chronologically within each poet's selection. There are inevitably things in here that are not of much interest (other than historical interest) to non-New Zealanders, but, especially in more recent times, there are a large number of impressive poems here. If some of the standout names are relatively well-known outside NZ, others—such as Elizabeth Smither—are not and should be. The book seems to be out of print or just unavailable in the UK, but is well worth hunting down.