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SHORTER BOOK REVIEWS HelenVandler, ed. The Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry. Cambridge,Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985. viii+ 440 pp. Polemical anthologies try to tell us what vital poetry is or how it should be written Thereare also anthologies which sum up an era. Vendler's selection falls into the second category: this is her map of American poetry after modernism. She begins ratheroddly with a modem, Wallace Stevens, because she sees him as a link with laterpoets (like Ashbery and James Merrill). Her introduction is intelligent if not provocative: she points to the diversity of discourse in American poetry (the specialvocabularies of psychoanalysis, journalism, technology and advertising havebeen exploited or at least accommodated), and she observes that the "social v01ce"-the lyric of protest, of commentary-is an innovation that Americans havecontributed to the possibilities of poetry. Feminism, politics, social injustice ' andthe arms race have all been dealt with in a lyrical framework. While Vendler' s concise and useful introduction suggests that she wants to be definitive about the nature of poetry in our time, her selection of poets is sometimesarbitrary. She omits Robert Penn Warren, a remarkable octogenarian contemporary who made the transition from modernism with great skill. Her representation of recent poetry is seriously distorted by her omission of two key figureswho permeated American poetry in the 1960s: Charles Olson and Robert Bly.Her selection is weighted toward the confessional: Robert Lowell is clearly hercentral poet. She considers his "Epilogue" a great poem, and claims that in it he"sums up the aesthetic predicament of our present poets" when he considers the"snapshot" nature of his art, which recorded his own life, and then pleaded thatsuch a record has value: "Yet why not say what happened." The predicament -of recording life in circumstantial detail and yet creating art-is not, in fact, a universal one. With such a touchstone, Vendler naturally favors writers likeAnne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, James Merrill, Frank Bidart, JohnBerryman and Frank O'Hara. While they are not equally confessional, they allwork with details of their lives, sometimes in a rather photographic way. Vendler does include a considerable range of poetry. She has peripheral but valuablefigures like Howard Nemerov and James Dickey, and she gives more thantoken space to blacks (Hughes,J-Iayden, Harper and Rita Dove) and women. Shedoes not include any really daring or experimental writers, like the L-A-N-GU -A-G-Epoets: the new discursiveness of Frank Bidart and Robert Pinsky is as radicalas she gets. This is a valuable book-ample selections from good poets, 288 Shorter Book Reviews and a tendency to include long poems whenever possible-but it will notchange anyone's thinking about poetry, nor does it sum up the age. Bert Almon Department of English University of Alberta Carol Zisowitz Steams and Peter N. Stearns. Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.vii+ 295 pp. In this bold, controversial and sophisticated essay, Carol and Peter Steams grapple with the implications of human anger over the long sweep of American history. Their central concern is not with types of anger or angry behaviors,but with "emotionology"-their neologism, defined as the shifting standardsby which Americans have evaluated and attempted to control anger. They dealwith angercontrol in marriage, in childbearing, in schools and at the workplace.Their study, as much synthesis as monograph, is based on their readings of advice manuals, middlebrow fiction, a broad range of historiography, and a sensibleand eclectic understanding of personality theory. That they also express strong, argument-inducing opinions is to my mind the greatest strength of the book. The narrative construction of the book, formed around modernization theory, dividesAmerican emotionology into periods, albeit overlapping ones. Partofthe subtletyof their study grows from their awareness that the development ofanger control moved, in their words, through "shifts in balance, not total reversals" (13). As in most arguments from modernization in American historiography,the least convincing part of this book deals with the so-called pre-modem mentality. Before approximately the tum of the eighteenth century, the Steamses assert, shamingand honor, not conscience and guilt, characterized the emotional livesof...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 287-288
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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