Sunday, September 16, 2012

The 20th Century In Poetry Edited by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae


The 20th Century In Poetry
Edited by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae
Pegasus Books, New York
Collection Copyright © 2011 by Michael Hulse and Simon Rae
ISBN13:  978-1-60598- 364-6
Review Copy, Softbound, 860 pages
Hardcover edition $35.00

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Where history, politics and war intersect the poet can be found. Words recording daily life, power struggles, bombs dropping. The poet protests, writes words of praise putting down feelings, emotions, observations like a row boat, sometimes, following a river, sometimes peacefully, other times like a white water raft.

 The poet drifts across history, engages war, reminds us of the explosions. There must be a keen eye, a good ear, a quick pen, a long memory and the truth. The poet says what needs to be said, says what is to say, says it so it is understood, remembered.

If a poem says it well enough, it is printed in a magazine or book. The really good ones make it to an anthology of which there are many – some good, some great, some exceptional.  With The 20th Century In Poetry Michael Hulse and Simon Rae have achieved excellence.

The books is divided into logical time periods with names which tell the reader what to expect: 1900-1914, Never such innocence again;  1915-1922, War to Waste Land; 1923-1939, Danger and Hope; 1940-1945, War;  1946-1968, Peace and Cold War; 1969-1988, From the Moon to Berlin 1989-2000.

Each section features names, some easily recognizable, others less well known and a few who have been left behind with the passage of time; overlooked in previous anthologies. This is what makes the volume particularly exciting. But it is not only the poets, it is the selection of poems which the editors chosen to use; many not readily found in other poetry books. Another remarkable aspect is the pairing of poets, sometimes the tripling of them, providing side-by-side comparisons giving new and fascinating views of poems and poets.

For example, in 1910 you will find W. B. Yeats’s No Second Troy with an annotation of his obsession “with the questions of Irish identity and nationality, and through his own poetry and plays contributed strongly to the forging of a modern Irish literature.” There is, of course, more to the annotation. 

On the next page is Linda Bierds White Bears: Tolstoy at Astapovo with an annotation which cites William Nickell’s  The Death of Tolstoy (2010), Roy Fuller, who  also wrote of Tolstoy’s death at Astapovo and Jay Parini’s The Last Station (1990) starring Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren in the movie version. 
This type of information allows the reader to not only unite time and space, but offers the opportunity to more easily access information on writer and subject or to pursue a particular, previously unfamiliar path.

In the pages under 1917, for example, you find Wilfred Owen, T.S. Eliot, Alan Brownjohn, the known, the famous, the unknown.  1960 finds Randall Jarrell, Galway Kinnell, Ted Hughes, Dom Moraes, Ingrid De Kok which gives you an idea of the depth, breath and quality of poets and poetry.

There are many sections in this anthology. Some 400 or more poets represent different eras. I have deliberately not included selections of poetry for two reasons (a) there are too many great works in this volume and (b) I would prefer readers go out and buy this book which will be a valuable resource for those interested in poetry and history. Indeed Pegasus Books and editors Hulse and Rae have issued a collection which in the 21st and 22nd centuries and beyond will be a valuable reflection of the history and poetics of the English written word.

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