Friday, December 14, 2007

Inside the Outside: An Anthology of American Avant-Garde Poets.

Inside the Outside: An Anthology of American Avant-Garde Poets. Reviewed by Laurel Johnson- Midwest Book Review

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By Laurel Johnson

According to the Farlex Free Dictionary online, avant-garde is a term describing an innovative group applying new techniques to produce fresh and unusual work. The last group of poets to earn the avant-garde label was the Beat poets of the 1950s. This book represents a subsequent generation of poets who craft their work in experimental formats and unusual patterns, or simply give voice to women, downtrodden city dwellers, or social dysfunction.

Most, if not all, of the thirteen poets featured in this book are well-known both inside and outside the world of poetry. Individually and collectively they represent an amazing body of award winning work that encompasses decades. All have been active in the small press, breaking established rules of vision and perception in poetry: Stanley Nelson; Hugh Fox; Kirby Congdon; Richard Kostelanetz; Lyn Lifshin; Harry Smith; Eric Greinke; John Keene; Lynne Savitt; A.D. Winans; Doug Holder; Mark Sonnenfeld; and Richard Morris.

This book represents is a stirring exploration of words and meanings. Some poems flow like word pictures with soft whispers, while others stand out like mysterious petroglyphs hacked into stone. Some celebrate rhythm and cadence; still others perform a visual dance with letters and words. The infinite amorality of our times is represented in poems about politicians and 9/11. The schizophrenic ecstasy of modern society comes to life behind surreal masks. Raw nerve endings and harsh truths are revealed in thought and word through dissassociative fugue states and word salads. The experience is often dizzying and exhilarating.

With only a few exceptions I can think of, Inside the Outside features work of the best avant-garde poets of the last fifty years. Whether you appreciate experimental poetry or not, this book is invaluable for the history recorded in it.

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