Saturday, October 29, 2011

What’s the Matter with American Poetry? Rita Dove’s Revisionist Canon



What’s the matter with American poetry?  Apparently, the problem is Allen Ginsberg.  And Sylvia Plath.  And Susan Howe, and Alice Notley, and James Schuyler.  Also Louise Glück.  Also Louis Zukofsky, and all of the other Objectivists.  That, at least, is the conclusion one might draw from Rita Dove’s new Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry, which bills itself as “an unparalleled survey of the best poems of the last century,” and includes none of the poets named above. 

I’ve done just enough editing myself to know that standing up and saying you’re editing an anthology is a bit like standing up and saying you’re a target—and the larger the scope of the anthology, the larger the target.  It’s worse, too, when you’re editing a book that includes living poets: at this point you might as well consider yourself a walking bull's eye, and be prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged poets everywhere.  In any anthology, there will be grounds for disagreement: the poor editor has a limited amount of space, and in the end will find that he or she has to select one poet out of dozens with valid claims for inclusion.

Dove’s anthology does a good job in some respects, especially in being attentive to the claims of poets of color.  In other respects, it takes positions over which reasonable people might disagree.  I’d have argued for Notley and Schuyler, but I can understand that other people might find their work to have been in some way—aesthetically, socially, in terms of influence—less worthy of inclusion than other poets of their respective generations.  Other people will have their own list of poets they’d have wished to see: one friend of mine lists Kenneth Rexroth, Barbara Guest, Robert Kelly, Jerome Rothenberg, Clark Coolidge, Ed Roberson, Bernadette Meyer, John Taggart, and Eileen Myles, among others.  The street runs the other way, too: I imagine most people who thumb through the table of contents will think some of the poets listed ought not to be there, especially if it meant excluding someone else: me, I find it difficult to believe that Laurie Sheck and B.H. Fairchild should have precedence over some of the excluded poets.  But again, I can see that there’d be room to argue, and both Sheck and Fairchild have written fine poems.

When it comes to excluding both Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg from an anthology purporting to represent 20th century American poetry, though, we’re not really in the territory of ordinary disagreement.  We’ve entered a place where some sort of explanation is required, because what’s being proposed is a radical redrawing of the map of American poetry.  I’m open to such a redrawing, but I need to know why it’s being done.

Speculation runs wild.  Some take a fairly charitable view: one reviewer sees the exclusion of Plath and Ginsberg as proof that Dove “is her own woman,” bravely going off in her own direction.  Facebook has lit up with chatter on the anthology, very little of it positive, at least from what I've seen. It’s been noted that many of the excluded poets publish under HarperCollins imprints, and one source claims that HarperCollins wanted some very steep reprint fees.  If this is the case, one wonders whether it might have been a deliberate attempt to torpedo a rival press’ anthology.  Some of these issues are touched on in Dove’s introduction, in which she complains about permissions fees.  One wonders if this can be the whole story: Penguin is by no means an under-capitalized venture, and people at the press must have known that glaring exclusions like this would seriously hurt the academic market for the book.  But what else could explain the exclusions?

I’ve heard from someone in the publishing industry that Dove may harbor some particular animosity for Plath, based on the perception that Plath could be deeply insensitive about other people's suffering.  There's the appropriation of Holocaust imagery to discuss family unhappiness in "Daddy," for example, or the use of Hiroshima imagery, and of course there's 
 the very charged language in one of Plath’s better-known poems, “Ariel.” Here’s a passage:
God’s lioness,  
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to  
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Nigger-eye  
Berries cast dark  
Hooks—

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,  
Shadows.

There’s no denying the presence of unsettling language, and there’s not much in the context to mitigate against a feeling that this is offensive to our 21st century sensibilities.  I am acutely aware that I will never know how it feels to be African-American and come across that offending word in an anthology of poetry.  But I do know that it’s the sort of thing I cringe at reading in a classroom setting, and for which I provide a lot of commentary, without making excuses (the same thing happens when I teach Heart of Darkness, or Hemingway’s “The Battler”).  I’m told—and I want to emphasize that I do not have this at first hand—that this sort of racially charged language, in combination with Plath's cavalier use of imagery drawn from some of the great atrocities of the 20th century, might lie at the root of Dove’s problem with Plath.  It might be a matter of a disdain for Plath's real or perceived insensitivity that led to her exclusion from Penguin's version of "the best poems of the last century."

I wonder, though, if this can be true, because Dove does include John Berryman in her anthology.  I think it’s correct to include his work: to my mind, Berryman is the greatest American poet of his generation, greater than Lowell (in whose shadow he once stood), greater even than Bishop (in whose shadow he stands now).  But if you’re looking for wince-inducing, culturally insensitive language, you’ll find it in Berryman’s Dream Songs, which make extensive use of a blackface minstrel show motif.  I think it was right to include him in the anthology.  But if Berryman’s in, why not Plath?

In the end, I don’t know the reason for the exclusion of Plath.  If (and I emphasize this is an if) it has to do with real or perceived insensitivity in her work, I think Rita Dove is well positioned to make explain the point.  Indeed, I can think of few people who could do it better (how I wish Reginald Shepherd had lived to write about this!).  As my friend in publishing suggests, it would be far better for Dove to provide a full, in-depth explanation for the exclusion than to simply edit Plath out of this representation of American poetry.  One might say Dove owes the world this explanation, not only to defend her editorial choices, but to inform us about how Plath looks from where Dove stands.

Of course there's a sense in which arguments about anthology contents may soon look a lot like arguments about what channel to watch on television.  Just as the DVR has made it possible for each of us to have things our own way—watching the football game while
recording the movie for later, then getting the reality show on demand— technology promises to make most of the arguments about anthologies disappear.  Limited page space and editorial variance from our own preferences become less and less pressing as more and more American poetry finds its way onto the internet, thanks in no small measure to the Poetry Foundation.  As one Facebook friend of mine put it during a discussing of Dove's exclusion of Ginsberg and Plath:

Howl and Kaddish are both on the Poetry Foundation website, along with 39 poems by Plath. Has anyone tried teaching entirely from their online anthology yet? Glad to let Ruth Lily's endowment pay HarperCollins's fees, rather than my students.... I may have to try this experiment in the spring.
We should all be interested in how that experiment turns out.

80 comments:

  1. I question the reprint rights fees explanation, on the grounds that that hasn't stopped Penguin before. Unless of course HC is gouging at the moment. Having been in publishing a long time myself, I know that money can be an issue.

    But it's hard not to see the exclusion of Ginsberg and Plath as NOT political. Or somehow having an axe to grind. Is this anthology supposed to represent 20th C. American poetry? Granted that no one anthology could really do all that (although Jerome Rothenberg's huge Millenium anthologies get pretty close without even trying too hard), but it strikes me here that this wasn't even attempted. Of course every editor has choices to make, and personal taste does come into it. But it seems to me something beyond taste if the editor doesn't tell you why something was excluded when virtually every other editor would. I agree with you that perceived racism is probably not the real issue.

    This strikes me very much as an attempt at revisionism. That's because previous anthologies published by Penguin have been far more inclusive. No doubt some post-avant poet will see a conspiracy here, an attempt by Silliman's "School of Quietude" to try to own the turf and exclude everyone else. LOL Silly as that is, you have to wonder what Dove was thinking.

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  2. It seems clear that Rita Dove is fearless. A more cautious anthologist would have taken the precaution of not placing herself in the anthology, so that excluded poets would have less to resent. I sense that you're right about Plath's exclusion being based on her use of the unacceptable racial slur. That must also explain Robert Penn Warren's exclusion because he was given to it also. You say that the anthology is unusually good because of its inclusion of poets of color. Absent, though, are Gerald Barrax, Michael Harper, Jayne Cortez, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Essex Hemphill, Thylias Moss, Tracy K. Smith, and Jericho Brown. On the other hand, there is no basis for including Walcott, given the anthology's title. Finally, if Louise Gluck was omitted because permission fees were too high, how to explain Marilyn Hacker's absence?

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  3. I see that the earlier incorrect statement that Hass and Merwin are not included has been removed from this review by now, after I pointed it out on Alfred Corn's FB page. But the misinformed speculation about Plath continues. Not only is the true reason for her exclusion AGAINST THE EDITOR'S WISHES (Plath was amply represented in the manuscript, with "Ariel", "Daddy" and other poems) clearly spelled out in the anthology's foreword; Rita Dove (to whom I'm married) goes into more detail regarding the permissions mess with HarperCollins in a forthcoming interview with The Writers Chronicle. And this mess had less to do with the budget for the anthology than with HarperCollins's weird, totally unreasonable intransigence. Penguin was actually willing to pay the high fees for Plath and Ginsberg that HC demanded; in addition, however, HC insisted that Penguin also pay the same high fees for HC's living / contemporary poets -- something Penguin could not do under any circumstances (as was clearly spelled out to HC) because that would have violated agreements with other publishers who granted rights to their living poets under an equivalent fee condition. Why HarperCollins (which, ironically enough, is owned by Rupert Murdoch) behaved the way it did is certainly up for speculation; why HarperCollins poems are not included, however, was beyond the power of both Rita Dove and Penguin Books.

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  4. Hi Fred,

    The Hass/Merwin thing was a mistake: I've got the book, but wrote the post away from my office where I keep it, and allowed myself to follow second hand information on that. Bad move on my part: I regret it and set it right as soon as I realized the problem (I didn't see any comment on your part about it, though). I did note the fees business being mentioned in the front matter of the book

    I don't see how HC put things "beyond the power" of Penguin. I do see that they made it difficult. Perhaps the forthcoming interview will make that plain.

    With regard to things "beyond the editor's wishes": it is my belief that, when one allows oneself to be listed as the editor of a work, one accepts responsibility for the contents of that work. Good intentions, as we all know, pave the way to a very specific destination. And I hope you'd agree that we must judge the work we are given, not the work the author or editor wishes we were given.

    With regard to speculation: I understand that you feel speculation about HarperCollins is valid. I hope you understand that speculation, presented as such, is generally valid, even when it is not about people with whom we're frustrated, even when it is about people we love.

    Of course I understand the difficulty of your position: on the one hand, you have the great advantage of proximity to the editor of this volume; on the other hand, the possibility of impartial judgement of one's wife's work is remote. Perhaps it is not even something to which one could honorably aspire.

    Best regards,

    Bob

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  5. HarperCollins didn't only make it difficult -- they abruptly withdrew the rights to all their poets / poems at the very last minute (the day before the book went into production, which they knew) because, as I said in my earlier post, Penguin didn't agree to paying the same fees for their living poets as for Plath & Ginsberg for a very important reason, which HarperCollins was well aware of: It would have violated equivalent fee agreements with numerous other rights holders and effectively killed the anthology. So, the matter was entirely beyond the power of Penguin.

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  6. If I follow you correctly, HC made it very expensive, and did so at a moment very inconvenient for the production schedule. This intensifies my sense they may not only have wanted to extort more money, but to kill the Penguin book. This is of course speculative, as is most of the content of my post.

    But as odious as the actions you describe sound, I don't see them as making things impossible, merely expensive and difficult. Perhaps we define the word "impossible" differently. It's likely. I mean, you and I do seem to use the word "ironically" differently: I can't quite see how Murdoch's ownership of HC is ironic -- given what look like very strong-arm, grasping tactics on HC's part, it seems entirely fitting that they're part of his organization.

    Best,

    Bob

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  7. Bob, it would have made it impossible. Violating the agreements with numerous other poets and their rights holders would have truncated the anthology beyond survival.
    Cheers, Fred

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  8. It would have meant having to pay all the living poets quite generously. I appreciate that we disagree as to whether this constitutes a great difficulty or an impossibility.

    Let's take comfort in the probability that technology is quite likely to make disagreements like ours obsolete sooner rather than later. And should our paths ever cross, let me be the one to pay for a drink: I feel I owe it to your for your generous tone in a dispute that must hit close to home.

    Best,

    Bob

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  9. Bob, yes, I agree: In theory, little is impossible. If Penguin could have been assured of selling 100,000 copies of the anthology at $100 each, it would have made it possible.

    I accept the drink offer, if we ever meet. And would buy you a drink in return.
    Cheers, Fred

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  10. So what if Plath and a few other much-anthologized poets didn't get into this anthology? The Problem with it is not that a few individual poets were left out of it, but whole schools of poetry were--visual poetry, infraverbal poetry, sound poetry, cyber poetry, mathematical poetry, performance poetry, and, I suspect, others I've overlooked or don't know of. Even conventional writers of haiku, some of them superior to more than half the poets in this anthology failed to make the cut. It's a shame that no one in the poetry establishment seems to think the full continuum of important contemporary American poetry should be allowed into any major commercial anthology.

    Bob Grumman

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  11. My answer to the question "so what?" is this: it's a breaking with something like a consensus, and so it's a major statement. Major statements should, I think, be explained.

    Well, there's the Rothenberg/Joris effort, which covers some of the territory you mention. But my feeling about anthologies is this: if you really can't stand what's out there, make your own. Again, I think technology is taking us in the direction where this is more feasible.

    Bob

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  12. The Rothenberg/Joris series is by far the best visible attempt to suggest what's out there, but it doesn't cover the whole field. That I should make my own is not a helpful suggestion. Who would I get to publish it? If I put it on the Internet, who would I get to publicize it--since all the visible critics would ignore it, as they've been ignoring what I call otherstream poetry for decades? Who would I get to help me with it? I'm not a name, and I'd have no backing. The kind of anthology I would want would require a lot of help since it wouldn't just repeat what's already in just about all the visible anthologies out there.

    As for "the breaking of consensus" you mention, it couldn't be more trivial--Plath is left out but the kind of poetry she wrote wasn't. And the consensus remains intact in other anthologies. What I'm calling for is a widening of the consensus. I don't really care what visual poets, for instance, were included so long as a fair number were--although I would hope that a few of the best were.

    Bob Grumman

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  13. Hi Bob,

    I regret that you find my suggestion to take action on behalf of your beliefs unhelpful. I mean, I hate to see someone disempower themselves. Perhaps we'd best leave it at that, since I don't want to get into a discussion in which the two Bobs do something like this:

    Bob G: "...but you fail to see the obstacles I'd face!"
    Bob A "...yes, but if you don't roll up your sleeves and try, how will you actually, actually know? And aren't you pre-dooming yourself to failure!"
    Bob G:"...but you fail to see the obstacles I'd face!"

    Etc.

    Best,

    Bob

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  14. Anonymous6:09 AM

    "(how I wish Reginald Shepherd had lived to write about this!)"

    I'll second that. I've thought that many times over the past few years. I'll think it again, many times.

    -John Gallaher

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  15. Actually, Bob, I've co-edited two hard-copy anthologies and several Internet visual poetry collections. I've also run a one-man press for 24 years that has published the equivalent of the anthology I've been talking about--i.e., poetry from all over the continuum. That you are unaware of the anthologies and press pretty much proves my point.

    I've rolled up my sleeves in many other ways, too, including calling in Small Press Review and American Book Review and various places on the Internet for help with a list of schools of contemporary American Poetry I'm made but didn't feel was complete. I've even wasted time submitting proposals to commercial publishers. I'm not sure what else I could do, given that I have my own poetry and poetry criticism to tend to.

    In short, I do actually know what to expect.

    I note, by the way, that you aren't even willing to concede that the kind of anthology I'd like to see would be a good thing. Getting Sylvia and Louis and Allen into another commercial anthology is more important than getting a few living poets as good as they but not in a certified school of poetry into one (for the first time), I take it.

    --Bob Grumman

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  16. Sure I'm willing to "concede" that. In fact, "concede" is too weak a term. I'd like to see it. That's why I tried to encourage you to do it.

    Best,

    Bob

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  17. What? You're not going to let me argue about it, anymore!?

    Well, Bob, I guess I'll accept your agreement, and even thank you for your encouragement--although I fear I need a little more than that. I really am, in my cranky inept way, trying to get the Establishment to recognize the need for a full-continuum anthology. And, sure, I'd volunteer to edit it--make that chief-edit it, as I don't think any one person would be qualified to edit it single-handedly.

    --Bob G.

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  18. Once again, R. S. Gwynn has been left out of an Important Anthology. R. S. Gwynn is not just an individual poet, but a school of poetry unto himself. The millions of school children who every morning recite poems by R. S. Gwynn as an alternative to the Pledge of Allegiance will be shocked. The Societe Poetique Internationale for R. S. Gwynn (SPIRGS) will hear of this and respond appropriately to Professor Dove.

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  19. But what about all of those great poems by R. S Gwynn?

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  20. Vive les SPIRGS-istes!

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  21. I hope you've had a chance to read Rita Dove's interview in the current (Dec. 2011) issue of the AWP "Writer's Chronicle" by now. Also, see her rebuke of Helen Vendler's NYRB review here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/dec/22/defending-anthology/

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  22. I'm just going to jump in here as well. As the Permissions Dude on that project, I can tell you that those seeking some kind of underhanded reason for HarperCollins (and a few others) trying to "torpedo" this project in some way reveals a misunderstanding of how permissions departments at the major publishers work. The problem with these permissions departments is the opposite of that, in fact: they don't look at permissions in any sort of editorial way--they are far too insular to really ever consider the bigger picture.

    And while one might, from the outside, say that Penguin should have just tossed in more money into the permissions pile, this simply reveals that the scale of the problem isn't known to those suggesting such a thing. Why should Penguin have to shell out (literally) a fee ten times as large for a particular Ginsberg poem than a Langston Hughes? Why would they insist on holding a permissions gun to Penguin's head even after attempts were made to bring them in-line with other fees, including offering a favored-nations fee? And even while their own authors were urging fees to be lowered so that they could be represented in the anthology?

    On the positive side, the lack of the HarperCollins poets allowed several poets to be used now that space was freed up to allow their inclusion. Many reviewers lamenting the lack of both HarperCollins poets and other poets not in have to realize that the page limit is quite real--ironically the lack of Harper poets allowed some of the latter criticism to be mitigated in the end.

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  23. I understand that those very close to the project feel they've done all they could -- and I appreciate your input, Fred and Fred.

    Of course there's another option, not considered here: if a project becomes impossible to do properly, even through no fault of one's own, there is the possibility of not doing it. I suppose there are other considerations beyond the proper representation of twentieth century poetry, reasons having to do with contracts and money. But I'm writing as someone concerned with poetry. I'd say that if this were the only way I could represent 20th C. American poetry, it would have been better not to do it.

    So. To speak of the product, rather than the process. As a scholar and critic, I find the representation of poetry here (for whatever reason -- I have heard versions from various sources, including those with a vested interest in the project and its editor) to be deeply flawed. As an academic, I'd find the anthology unusable.

    As I said in the post, I do understand the thanklessness of the anthologist's job.

    Best,

    Bob

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  24. Bob, you are entitled to your opinion, of course. I -- and many others with less of a vested interest than mine who have actually read all 650 pages of it and don't simply rely on hearsay and innuendo -- don't share it. It is an outstanding collection. I leave it at that. Fred

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  25. Fred,

    In what way have I relied on hearsay and innuendo? I wrote this post to present what people had been saying, and presented it as such: as speculation I had encountered, a document of the reaction to the book. I even raised doubts about some of the theories I'd heard. When I myself wondered about motives, I presented these things as nothing more than my speculation. For reasons I don't fully understand, you seem to have taken me to be the advocate of these ideas, and as someone credulous about ideas I myself did not advocate.

    I don't think anyone associated with the book claims it is flawless. I do think many feel that circumstances led to a book with some serious problems. I concur in that assessment. Indeed, I wonder if, given the difficulties you and others have described, it should have gone forward.

    Best regards,

    Bob

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  26. I posted this on Facebook when I learned that Dove's husband was making statements in defense of the Penguin anthology:
    It angers me from a feminist perspective. Here we have two American women who have earned their respective authorities over decades, both at the height of their power and visibility. They can (and do) both give and take the criticisms very well. So what the hell is a husband doing in the mix. It diminishes Dove's authority, IMO. I don't like it.

    Leslie McGrath

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  27. Michael Robbins9:46 AM

    An anthology of "Twentieth-Century American Poetry" that excludes Zukofsky, Oppen, Ginsberg, Plath, & Spicer, to name the most obvious omissions, is not an anthology of twentieth-century American poetry. Period. Doesn't matter why they were excluded. And Rita Dove should be completely embarrassed by her husband's special pleading.

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  28. T.R. Hummer11:18 AM

    I find Fred Courtright's commentary very useful (though RA's riposte that one could always opt NOT to do an anthology under "duress" is a good one). People outside publishing often do not understand the realpolitik of it. He says of "permissions people" that "they don't look at permissions in any sort of editorial way--they are far too insular to really ever consider the bigger picture," and--having spent years in publishing, and so having brushed up against problems of this kind repeatedly--I can corroborate this observation. This is not to overlook the aesthetic issues and the political and cultural issues that people are arguing about here and elsewhere, but just to underscore the fact that the publishing world is often intractable and dumb, and anyone who sets foot in that arena needs good armor and a big, big stick.

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  29. I hear you, T.R. -- I remember trying to get permissions, and being asked for $3000 to quote from a poet who shall remain nameless. When I balked, the figure dropped to $50. That's a sign that no one is really paying attention.

    But to return to the larger point. I agree that if one chooses to publish an anthology that one feels is not optimal, and not what one would want to do, then one has to accept criticisms from others.

    But to return to the even larger point: I don't think we'll be facing similar problems in a generation's time, when the very notion of an anthology is likely to be near-unrecognizable.

    Bob

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  30. Michael Robbins1:37 PM

    I have no doubt that permissions intransigence is responsible for some of the omissions. Penguin's my publisher, too, & they have always acted in good faith in my experience—if the permissions guy says HarperCollins asked for the impossible, I buy it. But, as Bob keeps pointing out, that leaves the question whether one should have gone ahead & published a book called The Penguin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry.

    And permissions difficulties do not explain all the omissions. Every anthology, of necessity, omits. But some omissions are not accidents.

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  31. I'd like to respond to your considered thoughts on the anthology via one idea: you note that anthologies are of limited space (a given) and that Dove does well by 'poets of color,' but later you question the exclusion of some poets you name. While these are valid questions, I'd offer back: how many of those 'poets of color' have historically been omitted in order to include those mentioned, whose absence seems so widely lamented now? Where have the ongoing calls for those 'poets of color' been for decades. Someone's always left out - what's telling is whose absence is noted and whose is simply glossed over.

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  32. Hi Amy,

    I am entirely sympathetic to the notion of redressing past exclusions, but I'm not sure where you're going with this. Are you suggesting that the historical exclusion of African-American poets justifies the exclusion of, say, Ginsberg now? That's an argument that comes with a lot of assumptions that would need to be examined pretty carefully, I think.

    Best,

    Bob

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  33. My last word in this matter: Thanks to the marvelous services of Google Alert, I receive notifications in my Inbox whenever my or my wife's name is mentioned in a blog. When I click on those links and discover substantial factual errors, misunderstandings or misrepresentations that I think should be corrected, I take the liberty to do so. I try to push back against rumors by providing relevant evidence, that's all. I do not take issue with differences in opinion per se.

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  34. I regret that this is your last word (though I take hope from this being your -second- "last word), in that you have not responded to my question about where I "rely" on "hearsay and innuendo," and what I relied on them for. I presented, as early speculation, things that were early speculation. If you care for a third version of a final word, perhaps you could clarify what you had in mind.

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  35. Rita Dove says, "Last but not least: Completing this collection would have been impossible without the help of my husband, Fred Viebahn. His patience during this four-year enterprise was nothing short of heroic, while his willingness to take time out of his own writing regimen in order to act as a sounding board and creative consultant--as well as emergency proofreader and resident drill sergeant whenever deadlines loomed--has most certainly earned him a marble bust in my personal Walhalla."

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  36. My absolutely last word, a quote from your original entry: "I’ve heard from someone in the publishing industry that Dove may harbor some particular animosity for Plath, based on the perception that Plath could be deeply insensitive about other people's suffering."

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  37. @Michael & Leslie & Bob : what, is there some law against a spouse or relative joining a debate about an anthology? Some kind of conflict of interest clause? C'mon. Viebahn made clear his status as husband of the anthologist. If he tried to conceal it - THAT would be out of line. Otherwise, for you guys to complain about Viebahn's contribution to the discussion... well, that's real "special pleading".

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  38. Why can't a spouse defend a spouse? Did Fred Viebhan affix a chastity belt to Rita Dove's elegant torso to protect her honor? What's the deal? And for one whose blood hits boiling point every time a poet in a twenty-block radius of my n.y.c. apartment talks about "Allen" in the same tone a high school Sophomore talks about how dreamy the quarterback is, THANK GOD. Thank you, Rita Dove. I probably don't agree with all your choices (for one, I am told there is no Sarah Sarai in the anthology!) (Hello?), but, dang, you've got us talking. Perhaps some people will even be tempted to read poetry as a result of this. Maybe?

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  39. Fred,

    If you read beyond where I mention that, I then say "I wonder, though, if this can be true, because..." and give reason to doubt that opinion.

    So perhaps we use the phrase "rely on" differently, just as we use the word "ironically" differently. You seem to think "rely on" means "mention something that exists and then raise a doubt about it." It's a singular usage.

    Best,

    Bob

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  40. Anonymous1:03 PM

    The list of omissions in the Penquin anthology is much more serious than any of your respondents has described. Besides the people mentioned in all the above letters are: Reznikoff, Rakosi, Riding, Loy, Bronk, Blackburn, Eigner, Dorn, Kerouac, Niedecker, Cage, Mac Low, Blaser, Bernstein, Schwerner, Lamantia, McClure, Whalen, Corman, Bukowski, Antin, Eshleman, Lansing, Perelman, DuPlessis, Wieners, Tarn, Padgett, Violi, Sobin, Sanders, Bromige, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe, Rosmarie Waldrop, Keith Waldrop, Ronald Johnson, Kleinzahler, Grahn, Gunn, Armantrout, Waldman, Will Alexander, Joron and Carruth. If you add all of these to the some two dozen names mentioned in the above correspondence, you will have an anthology--especially of the past 70 years--of much greater merit than the Penquin.
    --Clayton Eshleman

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  41. Michael Robbins9:06 PM

    ... Antin, Eshleman, Lansing ...

    Although more than half the above names do in fact belong in any decent anthology of the American twentieth century in poetry (even Gunn, if Auden can get in), one gets the impression Eshleman would out-Oscar-Williams Oscar Williams if given the editorial reins. Has anyone else suggested in a public forum that their work should have been included in the anthology? Is anyone else smug enough, self-satisfied enough, aesthetically negligible enough to do so?

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  42. Since Clayton is advocating for self-inclusion, something many poet-editors have done, here's my opinion on the matter.

    I have to admit that I'm not a fan of the editor -- no matter how distinguished -- who puts himself or herself into the anthology. It simply doesn't seem possible for one to make that sort of judgement about oneself with any degree of impartiality or disinterest. I feel the same way about including spouses. And the same way about prize awards. I mean, unnecessarily snarky tone aside, I was always on the side of the Foetry people when they'd point this thing out.

    Of course I'm aware there's a long tradition of self-inclusion or nepotistic inclusion. And I'm aware that many of those incidents involve excellent poems. I'm also aware that perfect disinterest is impossible. But I do believe there are degrees of disinterest, and we ought to try our best to approach it.

    I take it as a given that a lot of people disagree with this.

    Bob

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  43. Michael Robbins6:10 PM

    None of that is to the point, since Eshleman is not, here, speaking from a position of poet-editor. He's criticizing an anthology for not including his work. The "list of omissions" is "much more serious" because it includes, among other names, his own. If his own work had been included, along with that of the other poets he lists, the anthology would have more "merit." That's not simply crass; from an aesthetic & critical perspective, it's delusional.

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  44. Michael Robbins10:47 PM

    I mean, wow:

    http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/eshleman/00/blues.html

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  45. More food for thought:
    http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2011/12/until-the-fulcrum-tips-a-conversation-with-rita-dove-and-jericho-brown.html

    ReplyDelete
  46. @Bob: This is just too much fun!
    @Michael Robbins: Keep it coming! I'm looking forward to your reflections in the London Review of Books, or wherever. (I hope you're writing one...)

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  47. Fun? I'm finding it a bit of a sad spectacle, really. "Husband of poet miffed that not everyone likes her anthology keeps saying he's had his final word but is unable to contain himself" is not a compelling headline.

    Bob

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  48. I promise I'm going to go read at least the introduction to the anthology, Michael. Mainly because I enjoy arguing with you. Here are 2 possible preliminary responses to your defense of Vendler's critique :

    1) It seems rather strange of Vendler to spend more space carping about the intro than about the contents of the anthology;

    2) Poets & scholars & insiders all compose the perfect anthology intro in their heads & then compare that to the actual intro. But I would guess that writing such is one of the more difficult assignments. Who are you addressing? The inside poet/scholar community - or the potential general reader? & if the latter, how do you evoke the symbiosis of poetry itself with the wider track, the climate, of cultural history at large? Maybe Dove's aim was not to offer a scintillating & subtle analysis of a century, but to make a beginning for the general reader : & let the really interested readers dig beneath the surface of those period "cliches" to which we & the world at large so easily succumb.

    These are just some possible angles of approach. I confess I found some of Vendler's criticisms of the intro pretty convincing. But I guess I'm not ready to accept your damning remarks ("insipid" etc.). At least not until I've read it, ha ha!

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  49. I'm really not sure how to respond to that, Fred. I mean, it sort of takes things away from discussion and toward the ad hominem ("you're uptight!" "no, you're uptight!" is not a direction I'd like to go). And I really don't relish the thought of this comments stream going the way of Silliman's, or the Poetry Foundation's -- closed down because they became venues for snark. So let's just not go that way.

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  50. Michael deleted the post to which mine referred. Oh well. I guess he doesn't want to talk to me. I know, I can be a really scary guy. Happy holidays, everyone.

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  51. Anonymous7:02 AM

    Paul Zukofsky is notoriously cranky about permissions. However if Rita Dove didn't include him for poetic reasons she's a sumpf.

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  52. So living poets would have been paid a lot more in order to include Ginsberg and Plath? God forbid poets get paid much for their work. After all, they are lower than janitors on the social totem pole *Snark Mark*

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  53. I personally think that if Rita Dove is the editor, it's her business who she selects and doesn't select. Exactly what map is she redrawing? Who made that map? I'm sorry, but if such a map even exists it exists because of a publishing industry dominated by white people. So white people made the map. Why would you expect Rita Dove to subscribe to the white man's map? She's the editor. She's including those who SHE thinks are the best poets of the 20th Century. And if you were the editor, you'd do the same thing, and most likely there would be a lot of dark skinned and slanted eyed poets out there wondering why you excluded so-and-so. I'm not calling you a racist, but we all have a bit of racism in our veins that we don't even realize we have, and I think it is racist to assume a black author would see the world through the white man's eyes.

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  54. Hey CJ ("chicagopoetry"),

    As the post says, I'm glad she increased the representation of African-American poets compared to most anthologies (I'm not stoked about all of the poem choices, but I like the overall gesture). My problem was with the lack of Ginsberg and Plath, along with the publisher's claim that this is a representation of the best poems of the century.

    Bob

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  55. Anonymous6:34 PM

    Archambeau,


    Get over it. Seriously.

    You claim that you're "glad [Dove] increased the representation of African-American poets compared to most anthologies" seems increasingly more and more disingenuous the more you lament the absence of two, white American poets, an absence that was not only referenced in the anthology's introduction but has been explained in explicit terms here and at at least two other sites where Dove is interviewed. I can't help but be annoyed by your own constant pleading as if these two poets aren't regularly taught in secondary and university classrooms, and absorbed into modern culture (there was a movie just made about Gingsberg). This is not the case for Sterling Brown, an African American poet who you've yet to mention although he, like Plath and Gingsberg, met the same unfortunate fate (and Dove specifically names these three poets).

    I say this as someone who enjoys Plath (Gingsberg, eh)--but I enjoy her because of her nearly oppressive presence in EVERY other anthology of American poetry that has ever existed. Do you think there will be no more anthologies? Do you think that students--and what students exactly?--are only going to be given this text, and not the countless others (those that, by the way, exclude so many voices--but those exclusions are fine since those voices are already marginalized).

    You original blog post is, itself, offensive and, while I won't alide it with the hateful vitriol of Vendler, it nevertheless suffers the same issue: assuming you can speak for the intentions of Dove. Dove didn't include Plath because of her use of "nigger"? (Though she included Hart Crane, whose poem also uses the word, and countless other poets who have used the word). I guess she also excluded Gingsberg for his talk of the "negro streets"? If African Americans--or any marginalized poet or poet of color--decided to base their aesthetics sensibilities based on the (potential) inclusion of uncomfortable if not problematic language, we'd all be shut off--completely--from American poetry. We don't have that privilege. So, really, I find your attempts toward inventing intentions to speak more of YOUR OWN anxieties with Plath, Gingsberg, etc, and less about Dove.

    Of course, Dove's anthology is flawed. This is less an insult and as a commentary. The anthology as a genre is, always already, flawed. But this particular anthology is being attacked (if not only being attacked) because it puts forth a populace of poets that look and behave differently from the established canon of anthologies that precede it. And, btw, it's not only African American poets who are given more room (finally!) to breathe, but other poets of color and women poets.

    Everyone, chill.


    A.

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  56. Hi, Anonymous.

    Wow.

    I don't really like to respond to people who don't sign their names, but you've got things so wrong here I feel I ought to say something.

    About my "constant pleading" about Plath and Ginsberg: I'm not sure if "pleading" is the right word, but I know that "constant" isn't: I've mentioned the issue in one, count it, one blog post.

    How this one post about Plath and Ginsberg makes it "increasingly more and more" disingenous(I suppose you mean the redundancy as an intensifier) for me to have said I've said I'm glad the anthology includes many African-American poets is beyond me. I've been around various poetry scenes long enough to see that African-American poets don't get their due often enough. I've written about Sterling Plumpp, Harryette Mullen, Calvin Forbes, and C.S. Giscombe, and wrote the first full survey of Reginald Shepherd's career, and done other things to try to redress this balance, though I think if you're willing to see one post as something that shows me to be "increasingly more and more" disingenuous, and as "constant pleading," I rather think you're likely not open to things like evidence backing up my bona fides as a guy who thinks it was right for Dove to increase African-American representations. Also, since you're upset that I "assume [I] can speak for the intentions of Dove," I find it hypocritical, and remarkably un-self-aware, of you to assume to speak for my intentions — to assume, indeed, that they are the opposite of what I state.

    But of course you're wrong about me assuming to speak for her intentions. If you read the post with anything like care, you'll see that I present other people's speculation about her intentions, question some of it, and the present some speculations of my own, never saying they are more than speculations. This is not assuming to speak for those intentions.

    I should also say that I agree with you that the anthology doesn't just include more African-American poets than most, but also more "other poets of color." In fact, if you actually read my post, you'll see that I say "poets of color." So your criticism of me on this point is rather strange.

    Regarding your point about Plath and Ginsberg being widely anthologized: surely, if you actually look at the argument I make, you'll see that this re-enforces my argument -- the argument being that Dove makes a big departure from what most anthologies have done. If Plath and Ginsberg had not been widely anthologized, my argument would have been wrong-headed. So I am not sure where you are going with this line of reasoning, if it can be called that, Anonymous.

    I do not know what you mean when you say you do not "alide" my comments with Vendler's, because "alide" is not a word in the English language. Did you mean "elide"? or "ally"?

    When you write "This is less an insult and as a commentary" I do not know what you mean, because the pronoun referent is unclear and the sentence poorly formed. If you mean you do not wish to insult me, I'm glad of the gesture, but I have to say I find it, to use one of your words, disingenuous.

    I do think your advice for everyone ("to chill") is sound advice. Given the overheated nature of your own post, I do hope you will decide to follow your own advice.

    Bob

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  57. MichaelRobbins6:42 PM

    If people aren't going to sign their names or bother to write grammatically, why respond to them? Or, more to the point, why publish their comments? I think we'd all be much better off if everyone had to sign their damn names. Screw Anonymous (whose lazy dismissal of Ginsberg & inability to write suggest a very young person who hasn't thought things through very carefully yet).

    Anyway, I wish more people would concentrate on the anthology's introduction's cliché-ridden myth of progress that Vendler rightly eviscerates in her review. What's most troublesome for me is that the introduction reveals Dove to be a very shallow thinker about American poetry—one who reaches for the most ready-to-hand narratives to describe what anyone should recognize as a field whose complexities far exceed the soundbites on offer.

    Dove's caricature allows her to make such statements as "We must remember, however, that until the advent of television, news arrived through narrow, privileged channels." So much, as Vendler notes, for newspapers, radio, newsreels—all of them neither narrow nor privileged channels. The stereotypes she relies upon—forward, ever forward, starting afresh, trying new things—have been recognized as hoary for decades, so basic historical accuracy suffers. Is it any surprise her anthology is a mess?

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  58. I hear you, Robbins. But I'm still sort of clinging to the fact that I've never refused to post a non-spam comment someone made using the comments system (there was one guy who sometimes emailed me comments and asked me to post them, and I refused mostly for logistics). And I've never deleted a comment unless the author asked me to. But it was probably less generous of me to post that and then tee off on it with a nine iron than it would have been for me to not post it. My bad.

    There's a good post up at the Big Other blog (I linked to it from yesterday's post on my blog) that takes on some of the cliches in the introduction. As a guy who knows a thing or two about the Victorians, I found her statements about them to be naive. As a guy who hangs out with communications scholars, I know how thoroughly they'd shred her picture of the news environment in the recent past. And so on. I think it's sad, because Rita Dove has written some really good poems. I mean, it's like Michael Jordan's brief, sad career in minor league baseball after he left the Bulls.

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  59. The suicide issue raised by Dove and Vendler is no issue. It flows in the veins of all poets and is not exclusive to the confessionals.
    To wit, Hart Crane, his end of times:

    The Water Looks Lovely Indeed

    Self-murder burns its own special incandescence. Suicide is a light affair because it is entered into lightly. The one-thousand questions asked by those left behind are without weight because it matters nothing to Death. Grieving embarrasses the suicide itself, especially so in poet Hart Crane’s case, by the very act of memorializing it in writing and twice-fold in the reading of it out loud at a service. The point of self-murder is too leave everyone and thing behind, not be followed after with airy prayers and ornate praise.

    The author mentioned above is mere an example of self-inflicted mayhem perpetrated by poets over the years. Suicide manifests itself through a natural extension of self and there really is no mystery, no self-recriminations. A life lived is light too in contrast to the epochal march. What came before, the now and what is future days converge to present the opportunity for self-murder. It is only a question of method, not if, and the suicide’s fatalistic joining with absolutism. Death, a singular death, is a trifle. Suicide as method is inconsequential in its repetitiveness and endlessly leads to the next man waiting in self-murderous solitude. And yes, living a poetry will more than likely lead one to contemplate self-annihilation.

    Chris Roberts

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  60. Eshleman's lengthy list of avanti-fantis unincluded in the Dove anthol is an anthol in itself, and UCal Press should immediately hire him to edit it for their now-nonexistent poetry series—

    but of course most of the poets he names write works which don't meet (and indeed by their very nature stand in deliberate refutation of) Dove's main guideline, which, to quote her, was:

    "My criterion was simple: choose significant poems of literary merit."

    By which I take her to mean: unique, stand-alone, separate poems, Jarrell-lightningstrike miracle event poems, non-repeatable in their singularity—

    But most of the poets Eshleman cites don't write poems, they write poetry—

    (there are exceptions, Gunn for example)

    they write a kind of poetry which seeks to be an ongoing project, to make the act of writing a procedural process which aspires to stay quotidian continuous,

    not intermittent and random, not an anomaly, an unparalleled act of happenstance—

    don't they try to write a kind of poetry which is not non-repeatable. (I wonder if this desire of the avantgarde to engage in such an assemblyline esthetic has something to do with the Industrial Revolution and its requirement that goods be uniformly reproducible—)

    anyway, it reminds me of this squib, which I posted on my blog a couple years ago:

    in the TLS (p.16, April 17/09), Hugo Williams relates how Ian Hamilton, in one of his USA pobiz-crawls, encountered, quote:

    a certain professor who had gone on about the work of Clayton Eshleman. "Just a tremendous poet", he said. Surprised by this, Ian asked for the title of a good poem by Eshleman. "Oh, I don't know", said the professor. "Taken as a whole, you see. Just a tremendous poet." Ian insisted on knowing the name of a single decent poem so he'd be able to understand what the professor was talking about. "Oh for God's sake", the man said. "What is this anthologist's approach to literature?"

    *
    see the advocates of poetry—call them "the professors"

    versus

    the advocates of the poem—call them "the anthologists"

    *
    as one of the latter, i am as amused and bewildered as Hamilton was

    by the poetry-profs . . .

    *
    for "Eshleman" you could substitute almost any name from the Avantipoo list (spicer kelly howe et al) and the joke would still apply . . .

    ///

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  61. Jarrell: "A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great."

    Thunderstorms don't occur daily, of course—they are occasions, one might say.

    Now of the 9 thousand thunderstorms Eshleman has published—that's hyberbole, but what is the number of pages his Complete Poetry runs to by now, a thousand? two thousand?—

    assuming that Dove could even read through the hundreds and hundreds of pages of poetry published over the past 40-50 years by Eshleman,

    would she be able to choose the right 5 or 6 poems which make him a "good poet" or the right dozen-two dozen which make him a "great"—

    or Robert Kelly's how many thousand pages of published poetry—

    ?

    post-WWII USAPO have been able to have their endless egotistic verse published constantly over their lifetimes thanks to the economic wealth, the splendific superfluity of our society; poets in poorer countries will not have had the luxury of being so professionally prolific: they may have been forced to limit their output: to make each word count.

    ///

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  62. It's an important distinction, and I like your way of putting it -- anthologists vs. professors. Me, I've always sort of thought of it as the Ramones vs. the Grateful Dead: punchy little 2:20 songs vs. the endless jam band concert.

    Bob

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  63. So... you're a Ramones guy?

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  64. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  65. MichaelRobbins7:53 PM

    Oren actually gets at something similar to this in Being Numerous, except he frames it as a question of being concerned about the poem versus intending something else besides the poem—call it poetry, maybe. The failure to grasp this distinction (or, having grasped it, to grant aesthetic validity to the second possibility) is what makes conservative critics like Jmmn Hounmhn over at CPR (what an apt set of initials, but not for the reason they think) such really terrible readers of poetry. Missing the Point, Inc.

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  66. I've got to finish that book or Oren's someday. Which means I'll need to get my own copy: library books frustrate me, since I kind of have to write notes in the margins in roller-ball pens or I feel like I'm not really reading.

    Me, I've never felt the either/or imperative the way some people seem to. In fact, one of the surest ways to get me into an angry, arguing chimp mode is to dismiss whole varieties of poetry out of hand. It's what finally made me quit reading the posts on Keith Tuma's Britpo list, despite my interest in some of the poets active there: there was just too much "we are the one path, they are of the devil" talk for me. A lot of prefab responses to anything outside a particular compass.

    B.

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  67. Robbins: I dismissed Ginsberg in the same (childish?) way that Vendler dismisses Baraka.

    Archambeau: So I made a few typographical errors in my original comment. Yes, "elide." Yes, "This is less an insult as it is a commentary [in regard to the anthology as genre]." Etc. It's funny--sad--that you'd rather grade me on those slips than on the basis of what I was saying.

    Also: if I assumed your intentions as what was opposite of what you allegedly said, and if you find fault with this, why are you so quick to do the same with Dove? Will you return with me to your original post and the completely idiotic argument you try to make about Dove's decision not include Plath because of use of a derogatory remark in her "Ariel" and her general use of Holocaust imagery in other poems? Even if you didn't (apparently) originate this theory, you've included it as if to say it warrants consideration. More, you include it as if to say Dove's specific reasoning for omitting Plath, for instance, aren't true; you attempt to move opposite of what she says.

    In regard to another issue: it's the fact that this blog post and in nearly every comment on this thread you belabor this point: woe is me, Gingsberg and Plath are gone. Frankly, I have no idea who you are and still wouldn't if this blog hadn't been linked elsewhere. Before I commented, however, I took the long, emotional journey of reading the comments here and this is why--like Dame Vendler--I can say I have written my comment and stand by it.

    As I don't know who you are, I can't know, for instance, that you've apparently written much so much about your select African-American poets. (How extraordinary those Negroes must be! Baldwin writes about this in his essay "Alas! Poor Richard." Of course you've read it.) I can, however, use a nifty shift + F feature to search this page and see that it was me who was first to even mention Sterling Brown, not any other commenter and not even your original post (which focused exclusively on the omission of the two white, American poets that I mentioned). I'd argue that this matters if only for the fact that Dove, in her introduction, mentions Brown alongside Ginsberg and Plath's absences. But maybe you feel comfortable with your own omission because of your other point? i.e. the fact that Gingsberg and Plath are already widely anthologized making their omission in this anthology--I don't know--more heinous than Brown? Or maybe you just have and still have no real idea who Brown is?

    Surely, if you understood what a historical moment it is to even have a "Rita Dove" edit an anthology like this; surely, if you understood--not just "were around scenes"--but understood what it means to be a poet of color; surely, if your argument could be applied to more than just two overly-anthologized white American poets, but to some others as well; surely, if you unpacked your privilege, we wouldn't be having this conversation in this sickening way.


    But I'll leave you to your attempts at "redressing the balance." God bless the white American hero.


    A.

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  68. Hello again, Anonymous.

    I don't think I "graded" you on slips instead of ignoring what you had to say. There were points ("alide" being one of them) when I did not know what you were trying to say.

    When you ask about my intentions being other than what I said, I think you are misreading the post. I presented a range of initial reactions (by others) to the anthology. In the instance you reference (Dove's alleged dismissal of Plath because of a disagreement with Plath's representation of suffering) I actually raised doubt about whether that point (made by others) could be true.

    Regarding Brown: I began by saying many people have personal favorites they believe Dove should have included.

    I have to say, I do not think the hurling of insults ("idiotic," "sickening") from the safety of anonymity is a worthwhile way of discussing things. So far I've never felt the need to not publish someone's comments, because the comments have almost never descended to that kind of level.

    The snide comment about the white American hero -- where does that come from? You seemed to imply that I was a racist who hated African-American poetry, but when I mentioned that I've written a fair bit about various African-American poets, you present this as some kind of condescension. It feels like you're just looking for a reason to be angry with me. It doesn't help you make any kind of point about the anthology.

    I'm happy to discuss things with you, but I wish you'd have the courage to sign your real name, and the courtesy to assume that people are out to try to understand things together in good faith, even when they disagree.

    Anyway: if you post again, please sign in under your real name, and mention that you're the author of these prior posts. We can pick discussion up then, if you like, and see if we can do so without throwing labels like "idiotic" around.

    Best,

    Bob

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  69. Michael Robbins11:51 AM

    Yeah, I don't think anyone in this comment stream is agreeing w/ Vendler's weird take on Dove's inclusion of poets of color (horrors!). The anthology has a lot of problems, but that's not one of them, in my white American heroic view.

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  70. Bob,
    I really wish Shepherd was alive so he could perhaps explain things to you but I suspect he would have with some exasperation! I mean Amy's comments below. She was exposing the lack of outcry in the past [except for a few that noticed and cared] when numerous anthologies that I read in my childhood, youth and maturity were being published with very few or no quality poets of color or women in them. Almost mute silence was the call of the day and nobody ever suggested that the books be denied publications because of the absence of these poets! As a black intellectual, I find your suggestion absurd that Dove should have even thought about not publishing her anthology because a couple of major poets were omitted.
    I thought it was amusing to see how you so readily misunderstood Amy and rushed to the question of whether she was comfortable with leaving out white poets compensated for including poets of color! I compare this with your rush to review the anthology and reported a major error by saying that Dove omitted Hass and Merwin which I find inexcusable since the book has an index! In the case of Amy, she was posing an important, general question: even if Plath or Ginsburg were excluded, that is not a good reason to not publish the anthology since (1) these poets are in plenty anthologies while many of the poets of color are not (2) anthologies are a matter of taste so Dove's 20th century has the right to look different from your 20th century and (3) your review was all about what was left out when this could have been a good opportunity to inform your readers about quality poets that were included this time around that had been so often left out in previous anthologies, like a Melvin Tolson.
    One more thing: it is telling that you say that Dove must rationalize her selections because many of them are so non-mainstream. Perhaps. However, as a black intellectual who had to seek out alternative anthologies from the mainstream ones her inclusions have been known by my ilk for sometime like James Weldon Johnson, Randall, Tolson, Kumin, Clifton and many others. Her choices might be radical to you of course, but normal and a great pleasure to see them in a generic anthology of 20th century poetry.

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  71. Hi Russell,

    I am (as I said in the post above) very glad that Dove included poets from many different historically under-represented groups: where I differ from Vendler is that I think this is a strength of the anthology. I think you and I agree on this this issue, Russell.

    I do continue to think that an anthology that purports to represent the best American poetry of the century, but that omits Ginsberg and Plath, is making a claim that needs more explanation than was given. This is the "radical choice" I discussed. I don't consider Johnson, Tolson, or Clifton's inclusion as needing more explanation -- in fact, I think you are (I assume unintentionally) distorting my position when in your last paragraph you imply that I do. My criticism of the anthology is not what you seem to think it is.

    Best,

    Bob

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    Replies
    1. Bob,
      Her reason for leaving them out was economic not literary, not because of esthetic taste. That was the reason period. But let me be provocative for a moment: from where I sit in the esthetic theater, I have always felt that Ginsberg was overrated: bloated, prolix, perforated prose, in short, a minor uproar! And Plath is a lovely poet but if left out of an a 20th century anthology, yes, unfortunate but not enought to stop the presses!! Melvin Tolson is a major poet; Sterling Brown is major and they were left out of many 20th century anthologies. What were the anthologists reasons and even if I suspected those reasons, let the anthologies be published. I'm uncomfortable with Czar like wishes on other's people books. Bottom line, why is it hard for to get this?: THIS was her anthology and this was HER 20th Century.

      Delete
    2. Hi Russell,

      If the only claim made for the book was "American poems of the 20th century that Dove admires and her publisher is willing to pay for," then we'd be in agreement. Sadly, the publisher makes much broader claims about this being a representation of the best American poems of the 20th c. -- if that's not Czar-like, I don't know what is.

      Bob

      Delete
    3. Let me ask one question: what do you consider "Czar like" in what I have done? I asked for more explanation for a couple of decisions -- if that's Czar like, then Czars are pretty mild people. Later, I said I found the selection flawed -- but you find it flawed too (Tolson etc.) -- are we both Czar-like, then? I'd be okay with the book if it only claimed to be Rita Dove's personal choices, minus what the publisher didn't want to pay for -- but if you look at how the book is presented, that's not what it claims.

      I mean, at this point I'm having a hard time figuring out just why, exactly, you want to argue. Is it because I'm available to talk to, and Helen Vendler isn't? Or is it something else? Help me out here.

      Bob

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  72. What's wrong with American poetry? Nothing, according to twenty-three consecutive editors of The best American Poetry, each one falling over themselves using examples from slam poetry to magnetic poetry kits to prove American poetry is on the upswing. Let me go to my bookshelf to conform this... The Best American Poetry 2000 guest editor Rita Dove offering an introduction that could have been written for the first edition by anyone and reprinted any year ad infinitum.

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  73. The Penguin Blues

    I’ve read the new collection
    There’s lots of folks I’ve missed
    But I think my chief objection
    Is I’m not on the list!

    I hope you’ll find that you’ll forgive me
    If I don’t enthuse
    Because I’ve got the Penguin blues.

    The gamers out there gaming
    I give them all a pass
    But the flamers out there flaming
    Can kiss my po-biz ass.

    I send my check and manuscript to
    Contests that I lose –
    I guess I’ve got the Penguin blues.

    Then when Penguin phones you,
    That Harper/Collins owns you,
    And Penguin will not pay their jacked-up fees
    The most profuse apology
    You're not in their anthology
    Will sound as if it’s dirty low-down sleaze.

    May editors select you,
    Your reprint fees stay low
    And may your peers elect you
    For prizes that give dough

    Oh Penguin may anthologize the
    Product of your muse
    But me, I’ve got the Penguin blues.
    Those forty-dollar brightly-covered hard-bound
    Penguin blues;
    Oh Penguin may anthologize the
    Poems you peruse
    But Penguin only brought me the blues –
    These brightly-covered forty-dollar hard-bound
    Penguin blues.

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  74. Bob,
    Perhaps it's too late to ask a question about the Dove/Vendler controversy again, but I can't help myself. When Garrison Kellor published his poetry anthology, Good Poems, with a stingy selection of poets of color and women, did you and others consider the question of non-publication because of his title, Good Poems? Or as a black American, should I assume there are very few good poems from poets of color? And lets review Helen Vendler's two anthologies, Harvard Book of Contemporary Anthology and Faber Book of Contemporary Poetry, where she omitted major poets of color, American and otherwise, yet where was the hue and cry about those absences? And by the way, I don't remember any readers of color demanding non-publication! When William Styron published The Confessions of Nat Turner in 1967, and faced the public uproar of black readers, James Baldwin gave them some advice: if you don't like it, write your own! That would be my advice to you and others on this blog spilling ink about Dove's anthology.

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  75. I still feel like we're talking past each other, Russell. As I said, I'm glad that Dove's anthology has a strong selection of poets of color. I don't know why you seem to want to make the fact that I don't like some of the omissions into something about me being critical of the inclusion of poets of color.

    So. I still think you're arguing against someone other than me. I think you're arguing against Helen Vendler, really. She's the one who, wrongly in my estimation, has a problem with Dove's anthology because of the inclusion of poets of color, not me. Why not get in touch with her?

    Best,

    Bob

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