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The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry Paperback – April 8, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Poetry devotees will be familiar with much of the work in this fine collection, which focuses on the period from WW II until the present. Sixty-five poets, including such well-known writers as Robert Lowell, Allen Ginsberg, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, James Dickey, Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder, are represented by anywhere from one to a dozen poems each, as well as a brief biography that touches on the writer's aesthetic ideas. McClatchy, himself a poet and critic, has done an exceptional job of selecting works that typify the poets' styles and beliefs. Standouts are Elizabeth Bishop's "In the Waiting Room," about the poet's first perception of herself in relation to others; Randall Jarrell's "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," which deals with the dull, emotionless routine of modern life; Frank O'Hara's "Having a Coke with You," a dizzy declaration of love during a visit to a New York museum; and Mark Strand's "Keeping Things Whole," in which the poet sees his presence in the world as subtracting from the whole of reality. Unfortunately, the poems are not dated, giving the reader no sense of the writers' chronological development.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Alluding to the anthology wars of a generation ago, McClatchy writes in his introduction that his choices are strictly nonpartisan (neither "Paleface or Redskin, or Academic and Avant-Garde"). But from the 65 poets he has selected to represent the course of American poetry over the last half century--beginning with Robert Lowell and ending with Jorie Graham--it is clear his preferences are formalistic and academic. The typical poem a reader will encounter in these pages is urbane, finely honed, and smoothly accomplished. As in all anthologies, the omissions and inclusions are telling. Where are Rexroth, Kees, and Rukeyser? Why Cunningham, Bowers, Feldman, and Garrigue and not Ignatow, Brooks, Blackburn, and Bly? While it is a delight to have many of the poets McClatchy has chosen collected together in a reasonably priced edition, a greater variety of voice and aesthetic would have made this anthology a livelier survey of the state of contemporary American poetry. Still, it is a useful addition to most collections. For the 100 most anthologized poems in English, see review of The Concise Columbia Book of Poetry, p. 74.--Ed.
- Christine Sten strom, New York Law Sch. Lib.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Rev Exp edition (April 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400030935
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400030934
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Sarang Gopalakrishnan on November 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is decidedly an anthology of poets rather than poems: everyone gets at least three pages and a half-page introduction. It's also fairly encyclopedic and catholic. The main use of an anthology of this type is to give the interested reader a quick idea of what, say, Merwin or Ashbery or Clampitt is all about. This task it discharges quite well.

Now for the flaws. There are some idiosyncratic omissions, which hurt the book; regardless of what McClatchy thinks of Robert Bly, he should have included a few of his poems and let the reader judge for himself. Similarly with Stanley Kunitz. I assume McClatchy likes Thom Gunn and left him out for being British, which is a little silly because he spent most of his life in California. These omissions make the book a little less complete as a reference.

More seriously, the anthology is a hard slog because so many of the poems are at least a couple of pages long. This means you can't dip in at random and read a poem and be surprised -- which is what anthologies are traditionally for. It would be a more readable book if there were fewer interminable blank verse meditations, many of them unengaging and not very characteristic -- e.g. one would not realize from the selections that Merrill and Hecht were masters of poetic form. That said, one does get some idea of each voice if one persists.

A persistent pattern in this period is the mid-career switch from highly formal verse to a distinctive personal style. (Lowell, Berryman, W.S. Merwin, James Wright, Plath...) It's fascinating to see the mature style next to the earlier style; the book does this sometimes, but not with Merwin.

On the whole this anthology is a slightly unhappy medium.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 1997
Format: Paperback
The poet Robert Wallace said, "No magic, no poem."
In this collection, edited by J.D. McClatchy, there is
enough magic to power a year's worth of David Copperfield
performances. Bringing together the disparate but somehow
harmonious voices of Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Jorie
Graham, Elizabeth Bishop and sixty-one other outstanding
contemporary poets, this collection provides a wonderful
overview of our country's modern poetry movement. Such
classics as Plath's "Daddy" and Ginsberg's "Sunflower Sutra"
can be found alongside works by Denise Levertov,
Edward Hirsch and the beautifully imagistic James Schuyler.

Poetry these days, particularly as represented on the 'net,
seems to have become gritty and ultra-confessional. It is a
pleasure to read a work where the poets employ the old-fashioned
devices of metaphor and imagery to create powerful
emotions in the reader and to express something of their own
inner lives. Highly recommended!
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By M. Swinney on August 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Besides the seemingly at odds title, this book is pretty indispensable as far as poetry anthologies go. To even people that love and follow poetry the muddle of 20th and 21st century poetry writers can leave one scratching one's head fuddled at where to begin. This collection edited by J.D. McClatchy is perhaps the best place to start.
This book is a smorgasbord of modern day poets. It turned me on to such vastly different talents as Ginsberg, Robert Penn Warren, and Mark Strand. It starts with Robert Lowell telling us, "I want words meat-hooked from the living steer, but a cold flame of tinfoil licks the metal log, beautiful unchanging fire of vision..." and ends with Gjertrud Schnackenberg, "Covered with snow, and snow in clouds above it, And drifts and swirls too deep to understand. Still, I must try to think a little of it, with so much winter in my head and hand." There is a description of each writer straightforward and unpretentious. In its compactness, 65 writers are covered with each represented by 3-14 poems each.
I was pretty surprised to see only one review written for this book here on Amazon. I sure hope more people are owning, reading, and cherishing this book than reviewing it because to let it fall by the wayside would be something literally tragic. It's a jumping off point, a springboard. A beginning to discovery of writers and word, beautiful, unique, gymnastically agile words. We like it so much, we have two copies, one I had for myself and one I bought for my wife before we were married. Now which one will I read tonight?
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E. Kendall on April 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
I bought a copy of the first edition of this book (much prettier cover I am sorry to say) in high school. I thumbed through it, over and over, finding new and different poems to savor, getting exposed to countless amazing poets whose full books now grace my shelves (Anthony Hecht, Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich, Mona Van Duyn, Howard Nemerov). This book, by choosing generally shorter poems that catch your eye (with some exceptions) by a host of excellent modern poets with tremendous variations in styles, changed me from a poetry dabbler to a true poetry consumer and fan. I often give away copies of this book, with post-its marking my favorites. I highly, highly recommend this book, particularly to people intimidated by the number of diverse and excellent poets from which to choose.
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