this book was given to me by my 100-year-old friend because she figured since i ~love literature~ I'd enjoy this. also because, like everyone else, i am attracted to old yellowed books which (due to their age and jaundice) have an air of importance hovering about them. & yes, predictably, I did enjoy this quite a bit. my copy is the third edition, so the poems go up through 1925.
definitely solidified my view that, for school at least, the books we read, especially poetry, should be given some sort of context, whether historical or cultural or literary. because, man, after reading their contemporaries, i have such a greater appreciation for dickinson and whitman because everyone else was...terrible. mediocre. what whitman did was so unprecedented in american poetry not just during his time but for decades after him. (weirdly, though, although whitman is referenced every so often in untermeyer's pre-poetry-selection biographical appraisals, and gets a lengthy appraisal himself in the preface, he is not himself included in the anthology. fairly sure this anthology is post-civil-war or thereabouts—it starts with dickinson.)
untermeyer's opinionated biographical appraisals of the poets are probably the most interesting/entertaining part if one gets a kick out of watching someone wrongly predict the future. it's ridiculous how many times, when talking about some poet i'd never heard of prior to this book, some poet who ends up being average/unmemorable/mediocre/&c, he remarks how such and such poem will surely be remembered or deserves a place in history or whatnot. and on the flip side his usual disdain for the much of the poetry that has ended up surviving or being remembered or digging a little place in history is hilarious—his middling, sometimes distrustful reviews of the imagists, of william carlos williams, of wallace stevens, of t.s. eliot, of e.e. cummings (not to say that cummings is universally appreciated among critics today either, but he certainly did find a place in poetical history)...(to be fair, untermeyer did often give them props for their use of language and image, because how could you not, because, let's face it, everyone else was totally boring with their way of expression.) (also to be fair he loved edna st. vincent millay, but she's easy for him to love because she rhymes and writes sonnets and such. however unlike many in the pack here she still manages to write really great stuff (even transcending her archaic thee/thy thing...come on, edna, it's the twentieth century)—this was the first time i'd really read her besides that short little candle poem, you know what i'm talking about. must investigate her further.)) also contrary to what this paragraph might imply untermeyer is actually a pretty good editor, far more open to experimentalish poetry, it seems, than others of his time.
which isn't to say that only the big-name poets that have survived into the modern day are the only ones worth reading—there was plenty of poetry in here i was glad to discover (a few names, tossed out: john gould fletcher, conraid aiken, lola ridge, maxwell bodenheim (that's cheating i already knew bodenheim)), and if you're only in poetry to read great poetry...well, typing that, i realize that's a highly reasonable approach. but it's not much fun, i suppose.
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