sense, a poetry anthology is a collection of poems written by a variety of poets. Typically an anthology also contains or is organized by a determining thematic or time-period focus. Thus, on the one hand, we might read the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, which demonstrates a period but not a thematic unity, or, on the other hand, we might pick up an edition of 100 Love Poems, which showcases love poems throughout history. Regardless, however, of their determining focus or organization, anthologies are, almost without exception, involved in the work of establishing "representativeness" or the institution of what is called "canonicity." That is, all anthologies, as Jed Rasula declares, "aspire to canonical service" in one way or another (477), and their attempt to construct, maintain, or challenge the literary canon (the list of writers or texts that are considered exemplary) is one of their crucial functions.
Anthologies have existed in the West since at least the Alexandrian period, when Greek scholars began to collect texts of Sappho, Archilochus, Pericles, and other poets of Greek as exemplary instances of either a particular metrical form or poetic content. The anthologist's and anthology's instructional purpose remained, more or less, intact through the years. In the 20th century, however, both the editorship and purpose of anthologies transformed, at least in part, the classroom and became, to a large extent, a primary venue for establishing a way in which poets themselves might develop a map of both contemporary and historical poetry.
Arguably the modern anthology begins in 1914 with Ezra pound's Des Imagistes, which included poems by American- and British-born poets: Pound himself, H. D., Richard Aldington, and F. S. Flint. In large part working against the formal and thematic conservatism of late 19th-century Victorianism, Pound used his collection to advance a very specific sense of the poem, which disavowed established meters and metaphors for a responsive and open poetic form that came to be called "free verse" (see prosody and free verse). While Pound's anthology initiated an influential, international American presence, he constructed his poetics from Greek, Roman, French, Italian, and Irish traditions and disregarded possible American examples of innovative verse, including the work of Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman.
In addition to the sense of the poem it explicitly advocated, Des Imagistes importantly marked the assumption of the anthologist's role by a poet and the refusal of the anthology's historic impulse, though the instructional and canonical purpose of the anthology remained intact (as much as Pound's editorial practice was essentially polemical and corrective), Pound's effort marked a change in the stake of the anthology through its assumption of the editorial role by a poet and its interest in redirecting public recognition of poetry's history and contemporaneity. Shortly after Pound's gathering, James Weldon JOHNSON published The Book of
American Negro Poetry in 1922. While clearly not a direct consequence of Pound's project, Johnsons anthology nonetheless showed the change in the anthology's editorial project and agency Following Johnsons efforts, Alain Locke (The New Negro), Countee cullen (Caroling Dusk), Sterling brown, Arthur Davis and Ulysses Lee (The Negro Caravan) and Langston hughes and Arna Bontemps (The Poetry of the Negro, 1746—1949), all put together collections of African-American literature before 1949. These anthologies were central to the formalization of the harlem renaissance and testify to the power of the anthology to affect the sense of both historical and contemporary scene of American poetry. Also these collections established the crucial possibility of the anthology to recognize and gather writing that might otherwise be unavailable to a general readership and significantly affected the map of Modern American literature.
A more direct consequence of Pounds Des Imagistes was the circuitously influential An "Objectivists" Anthology edited by Louis zukofsky and printed by Harriet Monroes Poetry in 1931 (see objectivist school). Pound, seeking to facilitate a specifically American participation in and response to the active European production of poetic manifesto and anthology, urged Monroe to grant editorial reign to Zukofsky (see EUROPEAN poetic influences). Publishing himself, Charles REZNIKOFF, William Carlos WILLIAMS, George oppen, Kenneth rexroth, and others, Zukofsky's gathering represented a group of poets who, working within explicitly modernist modes, almost entirely resisted the draw to Europe. While more or less overlooked at the time, Zukofsky's anthology has become progressively more important to a sense of an American modernism, documenting the work of poets who assumed and practiced a recognizably modernist writing while remaining in the united states.
Together with such collections as Alfred Kreym-borg's Others (1916), Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin Hendersons The New Poetry (1917), Louis Unter-meyer's Modern American Poetry: An Introduction (1919), and Conrad aikens American Poetry 1671-1928 (1928), Zukofsky's and the assorted African-American anthologies offer a rich and varied picture of early 20th-century American poetic production. In addition to focusing attention on both a past and present work of poetry by largely unknown writers, these anthologies articulated a developing sense of a specifically American poetry.
Despite the explosion in the publication of poetry anthologies in the first part of the 20th century, no consensus on what typified modern verse was established. In fact, the very proliferation of publication may have made it impossible for any accord to be reached. Ironically this difficulty of characterizing and canonizing the poetic production of the modernist period defines the post-World War II approach to anthologization.
In 1957 Meridian published The New Poets of England and America, edited by Donald hall, Robert Pack, and Louis simpson and featuring an introduction by Robert frost. The anthology was seen by many as the securing claim on the postwar American literary landscape by a younger generation of English and American poets, such as Donald justice, Robert lowell, Adrienne rich, and W D. snodgrass. The editors selected largely academic poets working within a tradition of modernist verse and valuing the forms, structures, and craft of such British and American modernist poets as Frost, W. H. auden, Wallace stevens, and T. S. eliot. Three years later, in 1960, and partly in opposition to The New Poets of England and America, Grove Press published Donald Allen's The New American Poetry, 1945-1961. Featuring a diverse range of poets—LeRoi Jones (Amiri baraka) to Helen adam, Charles olson to John ashbery, Robert duncan to Allen ginsberg—the anthology offered a very different picture of the poetic landscape and represented exclusively American writers who, unaffiliated with any academic institution and largely unpublished, were considered "outsiders," although Allen grouped individual poets into categories and thus established new "insiders," albeit antiacademic ones. The two texts engaged in a "battle of the anthologies," competing for representativeness and readership.
The stake in this war between the anthologies was twofold. On the one hand, the landscape of contemporary poetry was being disputed; on the other, the character, canon, and continuity of modernist verse was under scrutiny. In his introduction to Modern Verse in English, 1900-1950 (1950)—an anthology closely linked to The New Poets of England and America—Allen tate writes, "The early reception in England of Robert Frost and the enormous international influence of Pound and Eliot and, later, of W H. Auden, have at last produced an Anglo-American poetry that only by convention can be separated" (qtd. in Rasula 223). Tate's sense of an inseparable synthesis of U.S. and British traditions is echoed in the Hall, Pack, and Simpson anthology, particularly in its amalgamation of British and American poets. Implicit to these anthologies' claim of a poetry of Britain and the United States is a sense that the two countries not only share a literary tradition but also produce an ultimately indistinguishable poetry.
Allen's The New American Poetry, in contrast, is exclusively and explicitly American. Aside arguably inseparable from, the formal distinctions of the two collections, this attempt to define "American poets and poetry" crucially differentiates the terms and claims of each anthology. While the Hall, Pack, and Simpson anthology, like its Tate-edited predecessor, insists on an "English language" tradition, the Allen anthology claims a uniquely American writing that depends upon the singular conditions of U.S. history, politics, and general culture. While Pound is a shared poetic exemplar, the Allen anthology, one might say, substitutes Williams for Auden and Zukofsky for Eliot, adding (in no particular order) Laura riding, H. D., Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Gertrude stein, Hughes, and others. In the midst of the Hall-Allen poetry war, Robert Kelley and Paris Leary published A Controversy of Poets (1965), in which the editors offered a potpourri of writers that crossed camp lines, as Snodgrass was followed by Jack spicer and James dickey by Ed dorn. Boldly disregarding partisan tendencies, the anthology attempted to represent the conflicted and complex state of early postmodern American verse. The editorial strategy of Kelley and Leary was not widely adopted, and anthologies—particularly those assembled by poets—largely remained explicitly partisan through the second half of the 20th century.
Allen's anthology published a solely American poetry which, heir to a primarily Anglo Modernism, attempted to establish a characteristically and innovative U.S. postwar verse. This project was taken up most significantly in 1986 with Ron sillimans In the American Tree. Like Allen's some three decades earlier, Silli-man's editorship served a polemical function. As both the publishing and educational industries proliferated in the 1950s and 1960s, textbook anthologies mushroomed. By 1970 Norton had published its first anthology of poetry and formalized what would become the increasingly dominant purpose of the anthology: to provide the classroom with a fairly stabilized group of Anglo-American poets. Silliman's anthology, however, attempted to deflect an uncritical assumption of a traditional canon and offered a vibrant and oppositional gathering of poets who explicitly put into question the poetic forms and modes prominent in commercial and university publications. Importantly In the American Tree made possible a more public appearance of independently published American poets working in an experimental tradition. More recently, Douglas Messerli's From the Other Side of the Century (1994) and the Pierre Joris- and Jerome Rothenberg-edited Poems for the Millennium (1995) take up Silliman's and others' project of anthologizing innovative and international poets.
These recent attempts to complicate the canon have centered on formally experimental poems and poets and thus, as some critics have pointed out, showcase a very limited range of race and gender. In this way these more adventurous contemporary anthologies showed the same exclusivity as that of more mainstream collections of American verse, such as Helen Vendler's The Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry (1985) and J. D. mcclathys The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry (1990), both of which offer readers valuable collections of formally conventional poetry directly heir to an Anglo-American High Modernism. Partly in response to the limitedness of these late century collections, anthologies African Americans, women, gays, and other marginalized groups appeared more frequently. Catch the Fire!!!: A Cross-Generational Anthology of African-American Poetry (1998), for instance, included Baraka, June Jordan, Sonia sanchez, and Quincy Trupe, and Florence Howe's No More Masks!: An Anthology of Twentieth Century American Women Poets appeared in 1993. Resurgent: New Writing by Women (1992), edited by Lou Robinson and Camille
Norton, is an important collection of innovative prose-poetry work, and Timothy Liu's Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry (2000), collects the work of vital postmodern gay poets. There is also the annual Best American Poetry, edited by David lehman.
In the end any anthology, if only implicitly, makes a canonical claim regarding the poems included. These claims vary wildly, yet are nonetheless central to the anthology's formation. ultimately the anthology is both an invaluable educational aid and an ideological tool. Teachers, students, and readers of poetry must be both alert to the distinctive advantage of the anthology—to offer access to poems that might not otherwise be read—and be aware and critical of the anthology's motivated, essentializing, and canonizing functions.
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