100 ESSENTIAL BOOKS OF POETRY

 

EYE Don Share

Collecting is where material pride, wisdom and love uneasily sit, an endless pursuit which moves product, an endless boon to any enterprise.  To collect is to amass, to buy, to own, to bring into one’s circle the niceties of some industry for one’s own comfort and inspection. The collectable items should be unique, if not numerous, and if not unique, at least very rare.  Collecting is to break off pieces of some whole, but the item, when found, bought, discovered, possessed, is a shining whole to the collector, and compared to it, the universe is a sad jumble—such is the profundity of collecting.

Poetry anthologies spread wealth; poetry is centrifugal; it scatters itself outward freely.  Except where it overlaps with the ‘rare book collector,’ poetry, despite its fecundity, is not collectable; collecting is centripetal; it waits in vaults and rooms crowded with unique paintings, coins, and cars.  To know coins, one must darken them in one’s palm; to know poetry, one merely glimpses what every other person glimpses.

The following list is not a rare book list; increasingly, great old poetry, important translated poetry, and all sorts of rare poetry, simply lives on the internet.

This, in many ways, is a perfectly centrifugal list, readily available to whatever soul—no matter how mysterious, no matter how centripetal, no matter how hidden, no matter how curious—happens to want it.

Poetry is against collecting.  Poetry doesn’t  hoard; you can be deeply poetic for free.

These are books you could own, or read, or memorize, or teach, or learn, and probably already have.

Good translations are necessary, but impossible.  Old poems are necessary, but impossible.  Good, new poetry is necessary, but impossible.

The list below is mundane, but necessary.  This—mostly from the top of the list—is what you read if you want to know poetry.

It is everywhere, but it still must hit you.

 

1. SHAKESPEARE SONNETS, AUDEN INTRODUCTION  Modern poetry begins here. A definite sequence: 1-14 children as immortality, 15-28 poems as immortality, etc.

2. POE: POETRY, TALES, AND SELECTED ESSAYS (LIBRARY OF AMERICA) Iconic poems, tales of poetic quality, even criticism of poetic quality

3. VIKING BOOK OF POETRY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING WORLD, RICHARD ALDINGTON  H.D.’s husband, got Eliot out of the bank, solid anthology by this Brit wounded in WW I who knew all the Modernists and hated most of them (375 poets)

4. PLATO: THE COLLECTED DIALOGUES, BOLLINGEN SERIES, EDITH HAMILTON, ED  Poetry being born

5. THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE, COMPLETE WORKS  With Shakespeare the best is just to read, and forget all the notes

6. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE, JOHN D. SINCLAIR, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD U. PRESS)  Verse translation hopeless; take the prose Sinclair with Italian on the facing page

7. THE ILIAD OF HOMER TRANSLATED BY ALEXANDER POPE (PENGUIN)  The king of men his reverent priest defied/And for the king’s offense the people died

8. THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY ALEXANDER POPE (MACMILLAN, 1911)  The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d/Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound

9. EDNA MILLAY COLLECTED, NORMA MILLAY (HARPER)  Tragically undervalued as Modernism came into vogue, Millay’s Collected is a must

10. PHILIP LARKIN THE COMPLETE POEMS, ARCHIE BURNETT  recently published master of the short lyric

11. LYRICAL BALLADS, WORDSWORTH, COLERIDGE  A shame Coleridge didn’t contribute more

12. WASTELAND AND OTHER POEMS, T.S. ELIOT  The one Modernist who could really write poetry (and prose).

13. LEAVES OF GRASS, WHITMAN (1855 EDITION) The first edition, before it got too long-winded

14. THE COMPLETE POEMS OF JOHN MILTON WRITTEN IN ENGLISH (HARVARD CLASSICS) You can’t go wrong with melodious Milton

15. UNDERSTANDING POETRY, BROOKS AND WARREN Textbooks are propaganda—this most used anthology in the 20th c. attacked Poe and elevated Pound/Williams

16. SELECTED POETRY & LETTERS, BYRON, EDWARD BOSTETTER, ED  Byron was very, very unhappy

17. POCKET BOOK OF MODERN VERSE, OSCAR WILLIAMS (1954)  Okay. Some of modern verse is good

18. A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, AN INTRODUCTORY ANTHOLOGY, CZESLAW MILOSZ  International poetry collections are good things

19. SELECTED POEMS AND TWO PLAYS, WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, ROSENTHAL, ED  Yeats benefits from Selected as opposed to Collected

20. OVID, THE LOVE POEMS, A.D. MELVILLE, ED. And you can really learn something, lovers

21. THE BEST LOVED POEMS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, HAZEL FELLEMAN  Because these uncritical anthologies always have some gems

22. ROBERT BROWNING, THE POEMS, PETTIGREW, ED. 2 VOLS  Because it’s Robert Browning

23. A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN POETRY, SELDEN RODMAN (1938)   Great snapshot of poetry in the 1930s: lots of ballads of political anguish

24. 100 GREAT POEMS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MARK STRAND, ED.  A very nice selection from a poet whose reputation is fading

25. POETRY OF WITNESS: THE TRADITION IN ENGLISH 1500-2001, CAROLYN FORCHE, DUNCAN WU, EDS   Poetry handles real horror

26. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1988, LEHMAN, SERIES ED. ASHBERY, GUEST ED. The first volume in the series may be the best

27. ARIEL, SYLVIA PLATH  A whirlwind of rhyme and rage

28. PABLO NERUDA, TWENTY LOVE SONGS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR, DUAL-LANGUAGE EDITION (PENGUIN) Neruda may get you laid

29. GREAT POEMS BY AMERICAN WOMEN: AN ANTHOLOGY, SUSAN RATTINER (DOVER) Women once had a higher standing as poets

30. OXFORD BOOK OF LIGHT VERSE, W.H. AUDEN, EDITOR  Who said light verse was light?

31. PALGRAVE’S GOLDEN TREASURY, FRANCIS TURNER PALGRAVE (1861) Look out! Right-wing poetry!

32. LIBRARY OF WORLD POETRY, WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT Worth a peek

33. 100 POEMS FROM THE JAPANESE, KENNETH REXROTH  blossoms and other stuff

34. BLACK POETS OF THE UNITED STATES: FROM PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR TO LANGSTON HUGHES, JEAN WAGNER  Before rap

35. THE OXFORD BOOK OF NARRATIVE VERSE, PETER OPIE  A narrative poem does not exist?

36. A BOY’S WILL, ROBERT FROST  His first book, published in England while the 40 year old poet made contacts there

37. THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY 1945-1960, DONALD ALLEN   Dawn of the post-war avant-garde

38. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1990, LEHMAN SERIES EDITOR, JORIE GRAHAM, GUEST EDITOR  Has that wonderful poem by Kinnell…

39. FIRST WORLD WAR POETRY, JON SILKIN, EDITOR  While being slaughtered, they wrote

40. SPANISH POETRY: A DUAL LANGUAGE ANTHOLOGY 16TH-20TH CENTURIES, ANGEL FLORES  Dual Languages are a must, really

41. THE HERITAGE OF RUSSIAN VERSE, DIMITRI OBOLENSKY  “From The Ends To The Beginning A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse” is available on-line

42. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007, LEHMAN, SERIES EDITOR, MCHUGH, GUEST EDITOR   One of the best volumes in the series

43. POETS TRANSLATE POETS, A HUDSON REVIEW ANTHOLOGY, PAULA DIETZ, ED.  Nice historical sweep…

44. ART AND ARTISTS: POEMS, EMILY FRAGOS (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)    Art really meets poetry; lovely poems

45. W.H. AUDEN COLLECTED POEMS Best poet of the 20th century; slighted by anthologies

46. POEMS 1965-1975 SEAMUS HEANEY  Never quite made it to major status

47. POEMS BEWITCHED AND HAUNTED, JOHN HOLLANDER, ED (EVERYMAN’S POCKET LIBRARY)  Some really darling pieces here

48. COMPLETE POEMS OF KEATS AND SHELLEY (MODERN LIBRARY) The two best—the best, the best

49. THE 20TH CENTURY IN POETRY, HULSE, RAE, EDS (PEGASUS BOOKS)   Wonderful idea: poems in close chronology throughout the century

50. VITA NOVA, DANTE, MARK MUSA, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD) A great book for so many reasons

51. CHAUCER: THE CANTERBURY TALES (PENGUIN) father of English literature, we hear

52. HYPERION; BALLADS & OTHER POEMS, LONGFELLOW (1841)  “Hyperion” is a very modern poem…

53. THE RAG AND BONE SHOP OF THE HEART: A POETRY ANTHOLOGY, ROBERT BLY, EDITOR  A lot of Rumi and Neruda

54. WORLD POETRY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF VERSE FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT, WASHBURN, MAJOR, FADIMAN, EDS  The translations are terrible, the selections are generally weak, but kudos for the attempt

55. LES FLEUR DU MAL, BAUDELAIRE  Ah…Baudelaire!

56. VICTORIAN WOMEN POETS: AN ANTHOLOGY, LEIGHTON, REYNOLDS, EDS (BLACKWELL)  That backwards era when women poets sold better than their male counterparts

57.  IMMORTAL POEMS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, OSCAR WILLIAMS   Solid overview (150 poets) without too much emphasis on annoying moderns

58. ALEXANDER POPE, SELECTED (OXFORD POETRY LIBRARY) You could do worse than his verse

59. A TREASURY OF GREAT POEMS, LOUIS UNTERMEYER   Almost 2OO poets

60. AMERICAN POETRY: THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, HOLLANDER, ED, LIBRARY OF AMERICA   A good look around at two centuries ago

61. ANEID, VIRGIL, ROBERT FITZGERALD, TRANSLATOR  Poet of the silver age…

62. THE POETICAL WORKS OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, RUTH M. ADAMS INTRO  She was the famous poet when Robert met her

63. THE ESSENTIAL RUMI, COLEMAN BARKS, ED  Passion pushed to the limit of wisdom

64. EUGENE ONEGIN BY ALEXANDER PUSHKIN, STANLEY MITCHELL (PENGUIN) The most modern of all epics

65. DYLAN THOMAS, COLLECTED, PAUL MULDOON, INTRO Too drunk to write many poems; this may be good or bad

66. POETRY OF DEREK WALCOTT 1948-2013, SELECTED BY GLYN MAXWELL  Between obligation and pleasure, we read…

67. BRITISH POETRY SINCE 1945, EWARD LUCIE-SMITH.  The poor modern Brits, neither old nor quite modern

68. THE PALM AT THE END OF THE MIND, WALLACE STEVENS, SELECTED POEMS & A PLAY  Pretentious rot, but fun

69. ROBERT LOWELL, COLLECTED  Most overrated poet of the 20th century, but has his moments

70  AMERICAN PRIMITIVE, MARY OLIVER  Our little Wordsworth

71. GORGEOUS NOTHINGS, EMILY DICKINSON, WERNER, BERRIN, EDS (NEW DIRECTIONS)  A really bizarre document

72. ELIZABETH BISHOP, POEMS (FSG)  Another one of those poets who wrote few, but good, poems

73. A CHOICE OF ENGLISH ROMANTIC POETRY, STEPHEN SPENDER (DIAL PRESS)  Rare, if you can track it down…(it’s at the Grolier in Hvd Sq)

74. CHIEF MODERN POETS OF BRITAIN AND AMERICA, 5th Edition, SANDERS, NELSON, ROSENTHAL  Can’t get enough of those chief poets

75. NEW AMERICAN POETS OF THE 80s, MYERS & WEINGARTEN Look back into the recent, recent past

76. BIRTHDAY LETTERS, TED HUGHES  The poetry isn’t good, but interesting historical document

77. TRANFORMATIONS, ANNE SEXTON, FOREWARD BY KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Modernized fairy tales—very influential

78. THE ESSENTIAL HAIKU, ROBERT HASS, ED (ECCO)  We forget Imagism sprang directly from haiku rage in West after Japan won Russo-Japanese War

79. THE DIVINE COMEDY, CLIVE JAMES, TRANSLATOR. This new translation is worth a read

80. PENGUIN BOOK OF FRENCH POETRY 1820-1950  Good translation anthologies are few and far between

81. ESSENTIAL PLEASURES: A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS TO READ ALOUD, PINSKY, ED  Reading aloud is good

82. THE RATTLE BAG, SEAMUS HEANEY, TED HUGHES, EDS  Conservative selection: Shakespeare, Blake, Hardy, Lawrence, Frost, etc

83. MODERNIST WOMEN POETS, ROBERT HASS, PAUL EBENKAMP, EDS   Not a large number of poets

84. COLLECTED FRENCH TRANSLATIONS, JOHN ASHBERY (FSG)  Not the most trustworthy translator, but we’ll take ’em

85. VILLANELLES (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)  These editions are available and lovely—why not?

86. BRIGHT WINGS: AN ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS ABOUT BIRDS, BILLY COLLINS, ED  All the best poems are bird poems—it’s really true

87. THE ETERNAL ONES OF THE DREAM: SELECTED POEMS 1990-2010, JAMES TATE Iowa Workshop poem par excellence, poignant, miserable, and cute

88. GOOD POEMS, GARRISON KEILLOR  As accessible as it gets

89. THE MAKING OF A SONNET, HIRSCH/BOLAND, EDS (NORTON) There’s no best sonnet anthology, but this one is good

90. MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA, DAVID HINTON, ED  Includes the major poets

91. SELECTED RILKE, ROBERT BLY, ED  Amazing how well Rilke sells in the U.S.

92. KING JAMES BIBLE  Yea, poetry

93. WELDON KEES, COLLECTED POEMS, DONALD JUSTICE, ED  Somewhat creepy—as modern poetry truly ought to be?

94. BILLY COLLINS, AIMLESS LOVE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (RANDOM HOUSE)  Collins is America’s modern poet—get used to it.

95. JOHN ASHBERY, SELF PORTRAIT IN A CONVEX MIRROR  His tour de force

96. NORTH OF BOSTON, ROBERT FROST (1915, HENRY HOLT) Like Emerson, Whitman, and Melville before him, interest by the English was the ticket to fame

97. HOWL AND OTHER POEMS, ALLEN GINSBERG  A Hieronymous Bosch nightmare

98. TALES FROM THE DECAMERON OF GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO, RICHARD ALDINGTON (1930)  this 14th century writer considered a ‘novelist’ but influenced Chaucer

99. EROSION, JORIE GRAHAM  Such promise!  Then along came Alan Cordle

100. LUNCH POEMS, FRANK O’HARA  Not repasts; snacks; the virtue of O’Hara is that he’s funny

 

 

 

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POETRY: THE MORE THEY ‘MAKE IT NEW,’ THE MORE IT SUCKS

Why is this?

In light of Ron Silliman and friends’ conference in Philly on Dec. 6 “Poetry in 1960: A Symposium,” which will no doubt celebrate Donald Allen’s New American Poetry anthology, Scarriet would like to ponder this question.

What hath Donald Allen (1912-2004), a nice man, an editor for awhile at the cool, pretentious, smutty Evergreen Review, wrought?

Our loyal readers should have noticed two passages in Scarriet printed recently, authored by two greats, Plato and Leopardi, taking on this issue directly and honestly.  They both said that poetry, by its very nature, is an old-and-courting-the-old, art.  Of course, a great hue and cry goes up when this simple truth (in terms of two small items: all history and any measure of popularity) is broached: “Fascist!” is the shrill charge from the Pound-lovers.

It’s a truism, though, isn’t it?  How can anyone but an oaf be seriously against the new?  Have you lost it, Brady?

I’ll put Plato and Leopardi up against Pound (who confessed he never read the “Rooshins,” and worked for their extinction (and others) in the war, and then had the audacity to call the United States an “insane asylum”) any day, but I still owe my readers an argument here.

First:  The merely new is not the same thing as meritoriously novel.  They, in fact, are quite different.   But apparently, often confused, whether by ignorance or hoodwink.  The mere fact of novelty in any area is no prescription for progress, or interest, of any kind, at all.

Second: We must consider what is being changed.  Poetry exists, like the air, most intensely in our lungs, not abstractly on a blackboard.  There is nothing wrong with things written on a blackboard, with abstract fervor, with speculation and dreams.  But the air is heavy.   As light and dreamy and windy as it may seem, the atmosphere itself cannot be changed radically—its very existence has a certain amount of pressure, in pounds per square inch, throughout the sublunary realm, where all of us are universally and singularly subject to it. 

Poetry, like the air, pushes back when we try to move or change it.  Poetry, like the air, may seem insubstantial and easily moved in its local existence, but there is more substance and bulk to it than is dreamed of in the pedants’ philosophies.

Poetry, like air, acts on us, perhaps routinely and mundanely, but still so, far more than we, as individuals, in front of a blackboard (even with lots of chalk), can hope to act on it.

If we altered only slightly the chemistry of the atmosphere, life that breathes that atmosphere would radically change; even die.  Poetry is that ubiquitious, and that correspondent with us.  It matters not whether life that breathes air or air itself first emerged in the planetary process; life and air, life and poetry are one, and cannot be separated theoretically, on a blackboard, or anywhere else.

Third: We can alter paint and stone and words, and this is what painters and sculptors and poets by definition do; but this is not the same as altering painting and sculpture and poetry, which none, by definition do, and to make the claim that human volition does do this, insults every individual painter, sculptor and poet, worthy of the name.  The alteration belongs to the poet, which the theory-mad pedant would claim for his own; the pedant’s claim collpases, however, under what he (the pedant) claims (gesticulating near his blackboard) to stand on.

Fourth:  Demolishing the cult of ‘the new’ in general terms, as we have just done, is relatively easy, but the pedants can still crawl beneath the radar of such reasoning in the dirt and mud of their pluralism; they will connect ‘the new’ poetry of 1960 to “modern jazz” and “abstract painting.”  These American art forms of the 20th century, jazz and abstract painting, do not exist “on a blackboard;” nor does Charles Olson’s typewriter, which allowed him to print his poems “on a field,” exist “only a blackboard.”   The breaking of line, stanza, metre, sentiment, narrative, signifier, signified, word, intent, unity and elitism, is also not a theory “on a blackboard,” the ‘make it new’ pedants will cry.

“Love is not love when it alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove.”   The alteration of poetry, the removing of “line, stanza, metre, sentiment, narrative, signifier, signified, word, intent, and unity” (none of these items are “elitist” any more than their removal is) does alter when it alteration finds, and thus love (poetry) is not love (poetry).

If you take away the components of love, if you take away the components of poetry, you are left with one thing: the blackboard.

Jazz is music and abstract painting, painting, only so far as they exist in those recognizable modes; this is a truism.  The removal of traits and traces in, and of, the mode is merely narrowing in a purely aesthetic way, an aesthetic strategy within the workings of those modes, themselves.   The new-fangled destruction of an art is cogent only when the mode, or the art, survives; after the line is crossed, it is simply that: removal by the remover: destruction.

Fifth:  Charles Olson can spatter words upon his two-dimensional “field,” but this urges the poem towards the pictorial, and one cannot gesture in that direction without conjuring the painters, who present spatial effects on a two-dimensional space, and most of them in a far more riveting fashion than  Olson, impotently imprisoned by his paltry, unexamined, and limited theoretics, on his “page.”   There is no escape for Olson.  He can’t have his cake and eat it.  He cannot invoke “field” without settling the account of all that “field” means in a wider sense, both physically, theoretically and historically, making him a new failure in an old medium.  Olson childishly demonstrated why poetry could not, and cannot, exist in the way he wanted it to, much less thrive in the way he wanted it to.   The impotence, of course, does not belong to Olson; he didn’t invent spurious spacing; anyway, how can there be an inventor of a nullity?   There is nothing but superfluity to be won here, of course; any engagement of the particulars (if they could be called that) of Olson’s delusional pontifications would aid only the aspirations of the followers and pedants themselves.

Sixth:  The pedants will always be able to find correlations; jazz and abstract painting were mentioned—but even Marjorie Perloff, an avant-garde poetry advocate if there ever was one, in her 1997 essay, “Whose New American Poetry?” scorned the idea (put forth by Allen in his  feeble introduction) that Mr. Allen’s new poetry was like “jazz or abstract painting.”  How so?  Even Perloff knows that dog won’t hunt.

The attempt at finding correlation to other ‘new’ modes fails; what works, apparently, according to Perloff, is the correlation to older “new” poetry, the original Modernists, who had done it already, so OK, Allen’s new poets can attach themselves to Pound and Williams (born in the 19th century).  Perloff also points out that many key players in the so-called “third wave” of Donald Allen’s 1960 anthology were the same age (older, in the case of Olson) as the “second wave” of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.  Perloff also rains on the Allen parade by pointing out two more issues: the lack of women in the “new” poets and also how quickly the old distinctions faded; by the 80s, even by the 1970s, “raw v. cooked,” and “marginal v. mainstream” were gone.

What’s left, now, but nostalgia for 1960 itself?   1960 was a great year, though not for poetry

But, hey, Philly’s got great cheese steaks…

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