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The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

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Penguin proudly presents an unparalleled survey of the best poems of the past century. Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U .S. Poet Laureate, introduces readers to the most significant and compelling poems of the past hundred years. Selecting from the canon of American poetry throughout the twentieth century, Dove has created an anthology that represents th Penguin proudly presents an unparalleled survey of the best poems of the past century. Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U .S. Poet Laureate, introduces readers to the most significant and compelling poems of the past hundred years. Selecting from the canon of American poetry throughout the twentieth century, Dove has created an anthology that represents the full spectrum of aesthetic sensibilities-from styles and voices to themes and cultures-while balancing important poems with significant periods of each poet. Featuring poems both classic and contemporary, this collection reflects both a dynamic and cohesive portrait of modern American poetry and outlines its trajectory over the past century.


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Penguin proudly presents an unparalleled survey of the best poems of the past century. Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U .S. Poet Laureate, introduces readers to the most significant and compelling poems of the past hundred years. Selecting from the canon of American poetry throughout the twentieth century, Dove has created an anthology that represents th Penguin proudly presents an unparalleled survey of the best poems of the past century. Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U .S. Poet Laureate, introduces readers to the most significant and compelling poems of the past hundred years. Selecting from the canon of American poetry throughout the twentieth century, Dove has created an anthology that represents the full spectrum of aesthetic sensibilities-from styles and voices to themes and cultures-while balancing important poems with significant periods of each poet. Featuring poems both classic and contemporary, this collection reflects both a dynamic and cohesive portrait of modern American poetry and outlines its trajectory over the past century.

30 review for The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Virginia Squier

    This is a beautiful book. I heard Dove interviewed by Bill Moyers, and immediately bought the book. I have been ending the day at school reading a poem twice. Not talking about it, as Dove requested, just reading it. The poems selected in the volume have a range and depth to them. Dove's notes on each author are helpful insights to the poems. I also have to comment on the physical beauty of the book. When I got it I walked it around my classroom and let the students feel each page, and feel the This is a beautiful book. I heard Dove interviewed by Bill Moyers, and immediately bought the book. I have been ending the day at school reading a poem twice. Not talking about it, as Dove requested, just reading it. The poems selected in the volume have a range and depth to them. Dove's notes on each author are helpful insights to the poems. I also have to comment on the physical beauty of the book. When I got it I walked it around my classroom and let the students feel each page, and feel the cover. This is what books used to feel like all the time, I told my class. Lucky for me, I have a class of readers, and they were all suitably impressed.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jefferson Adams

    Poetry anthologies are, in general, the bêtes noires of the literary world. Feared and suffered by many, loved and appreciated by few. Oft criticized, rarely praised, they are the staple of survey literature courses, and the bane of students everywhere. There has yet to be an anthology published that hasn’t been met with condemnation from some critic or other. There’s always too little of what’s good and too much of what’s bad, depending on who’s judging. Editing them is largely a thankless task Poetry anthologies are, in general, the bêtes noires of the literary world. Feared and suffered by many, loved and appreciated by few. Oft criticized, rarely praised, they are the staple of survey literature courses, and the bane of students everywhere. There has yet to be an anthology published that hasn’t been met with condemnation from some critic or other. There’s always too little of what’s good and too much of what’s bad, depending on who’s judging. Editing them is largely a thankless task, and going by some of the critical response to this collection, Rita Dove has certainly been less than thanked for her efforts. The public discourse around Penguin’s Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry has been shaped, in large part, by noted poetry critic Helen Vendler’s curt, dismissive review in the New York Review of Books, titled, “Are These Poems to Remember?” When I first perused Dove’s book, I confess to being a bit put off. For all of its lofty promises that it will introduce readers to the “most significant and compelling poems of the past hundred years,” there was, as I initially saw it, so much wrong with the collection; so many essential poets missing or underrepresented. So many weak, lackluster poets included. Surely Vendler was correct? On first full reading, I bristled. I cursed. I said dismissive things about the book. I questioned the literary tastes of editor, Rita Dove, her judgement, her methodology, her results. Then, after taking the time to compare it with rival anthologies covering the same period, and reading it through a second time, I promptly changed my mind. At 600 pages of poetry by 175 poets, the book is much more a tasting menu than a buffet. It will likely seem to many critics, as it did to Vendler, to be a stunted, flaccid, and perhaps overly broad representation of what is a truly golden age of American poetry. Still, the reader gets a lot of literary bang for their buck. And that, I think is part of the point of this collection, and an important consideration for any critic. When evaluating an anthology, it’s tempting to think just in terms of what’s good and what’s bad. Or to ask if we could have chosen better poems than the ones the editor chose. Surely, if cost were no object, many people could do better. But before we pick up Vendler’s cause and pillory Dove for a weak collection, we might do well to consider the three factors that drive every poetry anthology ever made. Those factors are scope, quality, and price. An anthology can be comprehensive, it can be good, or it can be cheap. It can be any two, but never all three at once. A number of anthologies opt for good and comprehensive, but not cheap. Among the best are: Carry Nelson’s two volume Anthology of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry at over 1600 pages total, and well over one hundred dollars for the two volumes; Norton’s Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Volumes 1 & 2 at 2400 pages, and well over one hundred dollars for the two volumes; and Library of America’s two book American Poetry: The Twentieth Century at 2000 pages, and eighty dollars for the 2 volumes, ending at May Swenson, with an entire third volume still to produce. Dana Gioia’s single volume Twentieth Century American Poetry is nearly 1200 pages and also expensive. And that’s one of the problems. For students, anthologies are generally heavy, cumbersome, and expensive. Penguin, continuing its tradition of offering solid literary value for the money, has opted for good and cheap, if not comprehensive. And handsome. The book is well made and nice to look at. So what of the poems? It’s true that the anthology’s lack of scope works against its efforts early on. Mainly by short-changing great writers by giving equal time to clearly inferior writers. And there are some glaring omissions, including Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, and Allen Ginsberg, among others. But most of the major modernists are included, and many of their major poems. Other omissions include Jack Gilbert, Bill Knott, Jean Valentine, Linda Gregg, Alice Notley, Laura Jensen, and Thom Gunn. Most painfully, the collection omits the poetry of Jim Harrison, Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, three major post-modern American writers and, I would argue, first-rate poets. All three are writers whose prose is best informed by their poetry and poetic impulse. It’s an unfortunate absence. It is in the poets born after the mid-1950s and writing in the late part of the century where the absence of literary giants is most keenly felt. Where, in this most educated, MFA-infused generation is the Auden, or the Pound, the Stevens, the Bishop, or the Williams? Where is the Allen Ginsberg or John Berryman, the John Ashbery, the James Wright, or the Anne Sexton? There simply isn’t one. Collectively, their poems are, for the most part, utterly anodyne and forgettable. Informed neither by lives fully lived, nor by minds tapping the deepest parts of the poetic imagination. But this is not the fault of Rita Dove, whatever you may think of her choices. Under Dove’s hand, Penguin has given us a book that will not only speak to professors and students of poetry, but will likely have an even broader audience appeal, partly due to Dove’s notoriety, and partly due to the breadth and accessibility of her selection. Chronicling the poetry of the last century as well as she did, in such a handsome, solidly crafted book at the modest price of twenty-five dollars is practically a public service. When all is said and done, when all of the factors that make a good anthology are weighed, I think there is a logic and soundness to the book that, even with its myriad flaws, balances literary value and volume with economic value in a way that will serve both teachers and students, and likely appeal to numerous readers. Critical noise aside, if there were an award for Best mid-priced anthology of 20th century American Poetry, Dove’s book would be a surely be a strong contender.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    If this was a perfect world, everyone would have this book on the bookshelf in one's family room. And an extra copy for every bedside table. Alas, this is not a perfect world and even if I beg you, even if I plead with you to make this purchase for your home, some will scoff and snort. "Poetry! Bah. Humbug." If you are not one of those people, the poetry nay-sayers, the people that make this a sadder world, trust me on this: This is the best poetry collection that exists on this planet.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chris Carithers

    Beautiful anthology. Dove's poems were some of my favorites. So many new discoveries.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Margie

    My caveat is that 20th century American poetry is neither my forte nor my favorite. However, I enjoyed this very much. Dove obviously spent a lot of time working to select the most appropriate pieces for the anthology. And although one might quibble with some of the choices, she did a good job of covering a lot of ground.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Garfield Whyte

    Very good read for poetry lovers. Nice collection, actually even if you are not the typical poetry lover, there is even one or two poems there for you. I loved "You can have it", "Poem about my Rights", "Populist Manifesto", to name a few.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    My only complaint with this anthology is that I wish it included more bio information on each poet and a bit about their style and what makes their poetry important.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    Do I like anthologies so much because I'm still nostalgic about school? This had all the old hits, plus many new surprises. And spates of boredom, sure. I liked Rita Dove's introduction. But I found the introductory paragraph about each poet unreadable. It says where they were born, where they went to school, what books they've published, what awards they've won, and where they died. These are the least interesting facts about poets. I felt lost regarding the work's relevance and it's connection t Do I like anthologies so much because I'm still nostalgic about school? This had all the old hits, plus many new surprises. And spates of boredom, sure. I liked Rita Dove's introduction. But I found the introductory paragraph about each poet unreadable. It says where they were born, where they went to school, what books they've published, what awards they've won, and where they died. These are the least interesting facts about poets. I felt lost regarding the work's relevance and it's connection to other pieces and larger literary movements. There wasn't even a date attached to the poems, so for poets with long careers you had no idea if something was written in the 50s or the 90s. Also, in what is probably an unpopular opinion, I wanted footnotes to explain obscure literary and historical references.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I wish there had been more introduction at the beginning of each poet's entries. The introduction at the beginning of the anthology was a bit slap-dash and in some places, even with my limited knowledge, not quite right. Disappointing that Plath wasn't included, though it was done for budgetary purposes. Pretty surprising how biting Dove comes across as in condemning the rights holders. "Alas, the legacy of the dead can still be enslaved by the living." Wow. Still, it's wonderful to be able to re I wish there had been more introduction at the beginning of each poet's entries. The introduction at the beginning of the anthology was a bit slap-dash and in some places, even with my limited knowledge, not quite right. Disappointing that Plath wasn't included, though it was done for budgetary purposes. Pretty surprising how biting Dove comes across as in condemning the rights holders. "Alas, the legacy of the dead can still be enslaved by the living." Wow. Still, it's wonderful to be able to read through the progression of American poetry so easily.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    A fantastic collection of poetry by some of America's greatest poets. This is a well-thought collection that pushes beyond the obvious and often challenges the reader with poems that are complex, troubling, enlightening, and sometimes difficult to read. If you love poetry, this is an indispensable collection to own. If you write poetry, this is sure to inspire you. Highly recommended.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    The cover in the picture is not the cover of my book. What a beautiful book! Well done all around. The selection is good, the spacing on the page is just right, and the book feels right in the hand too. It's so good a friend of mine pinched it!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sydney ✨

    We have been reading from this for class. A lot of the ones my professor has selected are good, but I have enjoyed exploring the book as a whole. It covers a wide range of topics and styles which was really cool to see.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    My bible

  14. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    Where was Richard Brautigan?

  15. 4 out of 5

    J.G. Gatewood

    Not a huge poetry fan (at least in the past.) This was a really great collection of poems from the past century.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kyc

    No Allen Ginsberg, no Sylvia Plath. With one to six poems allocated to each poet, many are represented by just one or two pieces. Altogether over 170 poets.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nick Ziegler

    This book is pretty much useless. I don't mean this to be flip or abusive toward Dove, but I'm having trouble understanding the intended audience. It's a conceptual problem. This is a long book which, after a short introduction that offers a synoptic view of American poetry in the context of 20th century history (stuff that even a poetry neophyte like me cannot subsist on alone -- can we have real criticism and insight?), consists of a bunch of unannotated, not-commented-upon poems. Poems which, This book is pretty much useless. I don't mean this to be flip or abusive toward Dove, but I'm having trouble understanding the intended audience. It's a conceptual problem. This is a long book which, after a short introduction that offers a synoptic view of American poetry in the context of 20th century history (stuff that even a poetry neophyte like me cannot subsist on alone -- can we have real criticism and insight?), consists of a bunch of unannotated, not-commented-upon poems. Poems which, as are their wont, are full of allusions (to past works, to contemporary events, to autobiographical happenings); poems with complex meters; poems that are in argument with their predecessors or contemporaries. The people who need an anthology are people who are trying to figure poetry out. These are the same people who would have no background on any of the things I listed above. Conversely, those who can get through a Wallace Stevens poem (let alone the untranslated Greek in Pound or not have to Google a translation of the epigram from Dante in Prufrock) unaided, needing no critical insight from an expert in the field to get a satisfying reading, are the sorts of people who don't really need an anthology. They probably own these poems already, and could supply the much-needed annotations themselves given time and motive. Reading through this has often been a bit like trying to find your way through a friend's house, at night. Sure, there are moments of familiarity, but overall you feel you're grasping at knobs that aren't there and stubbing your toe on unexpected walls. It's really a dereliction of the anthologist's duty to leave a volume like this. I shouldn't have to read next to my laptop (I can easily Google these poems and skip the book altogether!). Penguin puts out solid editions of, for instance, classic novels. This anthology could've included fewer poems, and more footnotes and critical introductions. It could've been assembled by a committee of scholars, rather than a lone poet. I recommend finding another entry point to these works; if not a book, Rap Genius might give you greater purchase.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Serena

    The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove (listen to her NPR interview, where she talks about the anthology and provides advice for young poets) collects a few poems from some of the great poets at the the height of their craft between 1900 and 2000, and while Dove notes that some of the poets who were starting to emerge in the latter portion of the century may not be included, it is merely because the anthology had to have a cutoff point and those poets may have The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove (listen to her NPR interview, where she talks about the anthology and provides advice for young poets) collects a few poems from some of the great poets at the the height of their craft between 1900 and 2000, and while Dove notes that some of the poets who were starting to emerge in the latter portion of the century may not be included, it is merely because the anthology had to have a cutoff point and those poets may have reached the height of their craft after 2000. Moreover, her introduction goes on to demonstrate the various turns in social movements throughout the United States and how poets and their poetry fit in with those historic changes, ranging — of course — from the backlash following the U.S. Civil War and the beginnings of WWI to the antiwar protests, the emergence of the feminist movement, and the struggle for civil rights. Each poet’s bio is included alongside samples of their work. Read the full review: http://savvyverseandwit.com/2012/04/t...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Jones

    It has taken me almost five years to read this. I've been picking it up every now and then, reading a few poems, and then letting it sit for a few weeks... A great experience which has introduced me to a lot of poets I was unfamiliar with. I know it has been taking some flack for the fact that it is so obviously one person's perspective, but I don't have problem with that at all. It is weighted, in the later years particularly, to poetry by women and minorities, but that only brings balance as th It has taken me almost five years to read this. I've been picking it up every now and then, reading a few poems, and then letting it sit for a few weeks... A great experience which has introduced me to a lot of poets I was unfamiliar with. I know it has been taking some flack for the fact that it is so obviously one person's perspective, but I don't have problem with that at all. It is weighted, in the later years particularly, to poetry by women and minorities, but that only brings balance as the early part of the century was dominated by white men. Some have complained about the lack of certain poets (and I confess I was puzzled by the exclusion of Robert Penn Warren) but in the introduction Dove explains that exorbitant royalty fee demands resulted in some poems and poets (she specifically names Plath and Ginsberg) being left out. I don't have a problem with this either. It is ridiculous in my opinion to believe that any anthology can do more that collect some of the best. You want ALL the best in one book? Aint gonna happen. I'm afraid you have to do some of the leg work yourself. The introduction is a nice overview of poetry throughout the century.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    I was definitely skeptical of this- I'm not a huge fan of Dove in general, and poetry anthologies are often collections of pedantic non-poems. This was a pleasant surprise. It includes real poets across a broad swath of the century, focusing on times and schools that deserve the attention. There are some places where I and others would disagree, of course, but you can't argue that she didn't work hard to include the greats. There are some strange decisions overall (Why include Corso and not Gins I was definitely skeptical of this- I'm not a huge fan of Dove in general, and poetry anthologies are often collections of pedantic non-poems. This was a pleasant surprise. It includes real poets across a broad swath of the century, focusing on times and schools that deserve the attention. There are some places where I and others would disagree, of course, but you can't argue that she didn't work hard to include the greats. There are some strange decisions overall (Why include Corso and not Ginsberg? If Ginsberg is over-represented then why include Frost? How did she miss the entire Objectivist school, especially Zukofsky and Reznikoff?), but definitely well done considering the hurdles to such a project. One great way to enjoy the book is as a window into how poetry as a form has evolved. Reading Pound and Williams and then seeing how poets take the form and breathe life into it (Creeley) or kill it dead (Pinksy) is great fun.

  21. 4 out of 5

    May

    So far, I'm a bit into it but try to read a poem per day. I love the Creation by James Weldon Johnson, stunningly lyrical, and of course Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is lovely. I think it was brilliant to put Harlem in as well, it fits nicely.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Miami University Libraries

    King Library (2nd floor) | PS613 .P47 2011

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lancelot Schaubert

    Go here for review: http://lanceschaubert.org/2012/04/18/... Go here for review: http://lanceschaubert.org/2012/04/18/...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joey Gamble

    An outstandingly curated exhibition of our last century in verse. Worth a read from front to back to front again and—maybe then—once more.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Don

    How can you have an anthology of American poetry without Sylvia Plath?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    I made a good dent in this before having to return it to the library.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    An amazing and wide-reaching collection.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Curtis

    The title speaks for itself...the book is beautiful, inside and out :D

  29. 4 out of 5

    Steve Newman

    Poor selection, glaring omissions. A very weak anthology given the Penguin imprimatur.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    So many fine poems I've never read before are available in this anthology that I think it might be the gateway to my newest literary passion.

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