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The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry Hardcover – October 25, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Former U.S. Poet Laureate Dove takes a fresh look at the canon of 20th century American poetry in this hefty anthology [...] This book is sure to become an important resource for those interested in poetry, and especially students, for decades to come." — Publishers Weekly [Starredreview]

"Selecting poets and poems to represent a century of poetry, especially the riotous twentieth century in America, is a massive undertaking fraught with peril and complication. Poet Rita Dove-a Pulitzer Prize- winning former U.S. poet laureate, professor, and presidential scholar- embarked on what became a consuming four-year odyssey. She reports on obstacles and discoveries in an exacting and forthright introduction, featuring striking quotes, vivid profiles, and a panoramic view of the evolution of poetic visions and styles that helped bring about social as well as artistic change [...] Dove's incisive perception of the role of poetry in cultural and social awakenings infuses this zestful and rigorous gathering of poems both necessary and unexpected by 180 American poets. This landmark anthology will instantly enhance and invigorate every poetry shelf or section." — Donna Seaman for Booklist

"At last, 20th century poetry itself! Rita Dove's [anthology] is intelligent, generous, surprising, and altogether thrilling to read- literally, a heart-thumping collection. In her editorial hands the 20th century is broad but sharply contoured. Most other poetry anthologies give us schools, corners, clubs, and identities, but this one gives us something beyond representative that gets at the extraordinary accomplishment and range of multi-vocal American poetry in the century. Dove's selection-and this book-will long stand as the definitive anthology of American poetry." — Elizabeth Alexander

"The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry has the solid, respectable, upright feel of a book bound for the syllabuses of myriad college courses. But it also has enough surprises to make it ideal for the rest of us too. It belongs on the bedside table as well as in a backpack." — The Chicago Tribune

About the Author

Rita Dove is an award-winning poet, former U .S. Poet Laureate, and Presidential Scholar. She has published numerous volumes of poetry, fiction, plays, and essays. She is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she lives with her husband, the writer Fred Viebahn.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1St Edition edition (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143106430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143106432
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #348,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By M. Feldman VINE VOICE on December 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a poetry anthology born in fire, a fire lit by a sharply critical review by the poetry critic Helen Vendler in The New York Review of Books and by a vituperative response in that same journal by the anthology's editor, poet Rita Dove. At issue are two things: Dove's 24 page Introduction to the volume and her criteria for which twentieth century American poets to include in the anthology.

I read the Introduction with care. Was it as poorly written as Vendler said it was? Alas, the answer is yes. At the outset, Dove declares her intention to present the poets in chronological order as opposed to, say, alphabetical order. Because of this choice, she feels impelled to offer background material; she is reluctant to let a poem stand alone, without our knowing "the conditions that spawned and nurtured it." At the same time, she freely acknowledges the difficulty of writing literary history, "for there are so many exceptions to whatever grid one tries to superimpose on living, breathing material." Dove should have heeded that inner warning, for the grid she does impose---"trends---patterns in a tapestry whose many colorful threads exult in running riot" is superficial and clichéd. Decades get their own little tags: "start[ing] afresh" (the early century); "the party before the knock on the door" (the 20's); "the self-satisfied fifties;" and so on. The "melting pot" gets several mentions. Poets stride onto the poetic stage (Wallace Stevens), woo "an entire generation" (Ezra Pound), "plunge headlong in the Long Poem" (H.D., William Carlos Williams, Melvin B. Tolson). The effect is like one of those illustrated Time Marches On timelines in a student's textbook. Believe me, you can skip the opening here; it offers little by way of insight.
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Format: Hardcover
Poetry anthologies are generally pretty much alike: the same fifteen or twenty (or thirty) canonized poets; the same collection of their canonized poems, etc. etc. What I like about this anthology is that while it pays its due to the canonized masters, it also gives many lesser-known and more recent poets a voice (I was unfamiliar, for example, with Angelina Weld Grimke, an African-American poet of the early and mid-20th century). There is a rapid-fire set up in this book. Few later poets get more than a page or two, but Dove has included many of them -- names that will be familiar perhaps to academicians and writing program instructors, but perhaps not to persons picking up this book in a mall bookstore. The book is attractive and crisp in design, and Dove's introduction is very appropriate. There is a strong emphasis on inclusion here -- what more cynical readers will slight as "political correctness." But in other readers' eyes (mine included) this is a welcome and robust reflection of our increasingly multicultural national makeup. I would not hesitate to purchase this fine anthology and send to a friend or family member as a way of showing them what poetry was, and is, in the US. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Helen Vendler who for many is the preeminent critic of American Poetry strongly criticizes this present Anthology primarily for downplaying the role of the great or major American poets of the century who she considers to be T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and perhaps Ezra Pound). It is by the way possible to criticize Vendler's selections also. In my judgment neither W.C. Williams nor Pound is in the same league with Eliot, Frost Stevens) She also finds fault with Rita Dove for her apparent 'political agenda' pointing out that the poets chosen who were born in the second half of the century are predominantly non- Wasp and non- white. She points out that a minor poet like Marvin Tolson is given fourteen pages while arguably the greatest American poet of the century, Wallace Stevens is given six, and then from his less complex early work. She suggests that Dove has a kind of low- brow idea of Poetry which really does not do justice to it as a high art form. If Every Person cannot read it and understand it it is not Poetry for Dove. This for Vendler is a cardinal sin.She believes that one- hundred and seventy- five poets as representative of an American century are a ridiculously high number. Who will be remembered? she asks, implying that it will be a handful or two at most.
Against this Rita Dove claims she was seeking to present a wide and representative view of the many faces of Poetry in the century. For her Poetry does not belong to the Poets and literary elite alone but belongs to the people. Each of us is a poet in some way and each of us can be a poetry reader. And so she has searched wide and been open to many different kinds of voices. And she has given readers an opportunity to meet with poems and names that they would otherwise never have known.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I ordered this book after seeing Rita Dove interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS in which the poet read selections from the collection including "Touch Me" by Stanley Kunitz. This is a compilation which validates the reader's experience in the twentieth century , revisiting poems we have grown up loving and also surprising us with pearls and golden ingots and smooth river stones we missed along the way. It is our record of the poetic journey of the past century. It is also the book that should be in the home where children are growing for its pure poetry and vivid insight into the human experience. I have only just begun to explore; It is a book to visit daily. The selections are arranged chronologically by the poets's birth years. A thoughtful gift.
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