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The New Anthology of American Poetry

Vol. III: Postmodernisms 1950-Present

Edited by Steven Gould Axelrod, Camille Roman, and Thomas Travisano

Publication Year: 2012

Steven Gould Axelrod, Camille Roman, and Thomas Travisano continue the standard of excellence set in Volumes I and II of this extraordinary anthology. Volume III provides the most compelling and wide-ranging selection available of American poetry from 1950 to the present. Its contents are just as diverse and multifaceted as America itself and invite readers to explore the world of poetry in the larger historical context of American culture.

Nearly three hundred poems allow readers to explore canonical works by such poets as Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, and Sylvia Plath, as well as song lyrics from such popular musicians as Bob Dylan and Queen Latifah. Because contemporary American culture transcends the borders of the continental United States, the anthology also includes numerous transnational poets, from Julia de Burgos to Derek Walcott. Whether they are the works of oblique avant-gardists like John Ashbery or direct, populist poets like Allen Ginsberg, all of the selections are accompanied by extensive introductions and footnotes, making the great poetry of the period fully accessible to readers for the first time.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xxi-xxii

We are happy to invite you into the world of postmodern poetry and culture. The poetry is notable for its fluidity of outlook and expression—its chameleon-like ability to change color. Some of the poems, for example, are deeply personal. Elizabeth Bishop writes to herself (in “In the Waiting Room”): “But I felt: you are an I...

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pp. xxiii-xxvi

As in the earlier volumes of this anthology, we are deeply indebted to numerous literary scholars, poets, librarians, historians, and anthologists, many of whose names appear in our notes and “Further Reading” selections. We also thank our students at the University...

Part I. Mid-Twentieth-Century Poetry

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pp. 3-8

Mid-twentieth-century american poetry witnessed revolutions in form and content that were as sweeping as the modernist revolutions of the earlier twentieth century. Whereas many modernist poets had emphasized impersonality, many midcentury poets brought a seemingly autobiographical speaker into their texts. While earlier...

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pp. 9-18

George oppen, a great innovator in American poetry, combined social awareness with an interrogation of language and a developing spiritual sense. He sought to discover what he called (in “Anniversary Poem”) the “paradise of the real.” He believed that in the act of perceiving one’s self and the world—and one’s self in the world—one comes into being...

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pp. 19-22

George oppen, a great innovator in American poetry, combined social awareness with an interrogation of language and a developing spiritual sense. He sought to discover what he called (in “Anniversary Poem”) the “paradise of the real.” He believed that in the act of perceiving one’s self and the world—and one’s self in the world—one comes into being...

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pp. 23-37

Charles olson brought epic ambitions, comprehensive intelligence, and rugged intensity to his work as a poet, as a literary critic and theorist, as a teacher, and as a mentor to younger poets. His signal accomplishments in all of these fields mark him as one of the leaders of the influential Black Mountain school of poetry and as one of American...

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pp. 38-60

Elizabeth bishop has emerged as one of the most important and widely discussed American poets of the twentieth century. Bishop published comparatively little in her lifetime, and our image of her as a writer and as a person has undergone continuous revision since her...

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pp. 61-64

Carlos bulosan, a major writer of both poetry and prose, is considered the most important founding voice in Filipino-American literature. Look, the popular weekly magazine of the 1940s, called his 1946 autobiographical novel, America Is In the Heart, “one of the fifty most important American books ever published.” This book, which recounts...

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pp. 64-68

Robert hayden was a master of understatement and implication, and his poetry is noted for its subtle, erudite, and nuanced exploration of the present and past of African-American culture. His work often focuses on individuals whose lives were shaped by their cultural inheritance, as in his sensitive “The Ballad of Sue Ellen Westerfield...

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pp. 69-78

Muriel rukeyser worked devotedly to make poetry central to everyday life and to social progress. Ideals of justice and care drive her poems, which often concern the abolition of inequality and war, the need for self-discovery, and the promise of literature and science to transform the world. Rukeyser involved herself in many of the most contentious issues of her day—from fighting fascism and corporate irresponsibility in...

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pp. 78-88

John berryman’s poems are marked by their darkly funny, linguistically inventive, and often searingly emotional explorations of the problem of selfhood in the postmodern world. His magnum opus, The Dream Songs, is a sequence of 385 short poems composed in a uniquely Berrymanesque language that are loosely woven together into...

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pp. 88-92

Arguably puerto rico’s greatest poet, Julia Constanza de Burgos García is enjoying a renaissance of interest in her lyrical poetry, her politics of social change, and her feminism. One major cultural indicator of her rise to the top of contemporary American poetry is her selection for a stamp issued in her honor by the U.S. Postal Service in 2010. In addition, many schools and parks have been named for her, in both...

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pp. 93-106

The poems of randall jarrell explore the lives of the comparatively powerless— children, holocaust victims, young soldiers whose lives are held as pawns of larger forces, or women struggling to claim a sense of identity in a man’s world. Their lines combine a sharp awareness of contemporary history, and an almost encyclopedic knowledge...

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pp. 106-117

Gwendolyn brooks created a remarkable verbal world and social vision. Her work is a landmark of twentieth-century American poetry. She brought the urban life of working-class African Americans vividly into poetic history. Exploring her characters’ particularities and circumstances with a keen eye and ready sympathy, she created a human...

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pp. 117-137

Robert lowell had a poetic career notable for its range and impact. Early poems, such as “Where the Rainbow Ends,” used complex formal structures to frame a quest for Christian redemption. In his middle period, he innovated a poetry of personal revelation, in such poems as “Skunk Hour,” and a poetry of social witness, in such poems as “...

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pp. 138-145

Robert duncan was both a visionary poet, in the tradition of Dante and William Blake, and a poet of collage, fragmentation, and allusion, helping initiate a tradition that flowered among such contemporary poets as Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian, and Rae Armantrout (all included in this anthology). His learned and at times ecstatic poetry has...

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pp. 145-153

James dickey drew inspiration from the white, Southern social world of his upbringing and from the natural environment that he loved. Unlike poets who emphasized formal innovation, Dickey found excitement in the lives and minds of ordinary people. “A Birth,” for example, explores the complex interrelations between memor...

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pp. 154-161

Denise levertov dedicated her career to exploring connections among nations, cultures, and spiritual traditions. Levertov was born in Ilford, England, to a Welsh mother with roots in Christian mysticism and a father, Paul Levertoff, who was a Russian Hasidic Jew who migrated from Germany to the United Kingdom and became an Anglican priest. Her father’s published writings in the field of theology study the common...

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pp. 161-168

Poet, short story writer, feminist, activist, and teacher, Mitsuye Yamada explores themes of human rights and self-development in a conflict-ridden world. Her work combines the personal revelation associated with the confessional poets with the insistence on gender and ethnic equality central to many multicultural poets. As Traise Yamamoto...

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pp. 169-172

Robert creeley was deeply involved in exploring the unfolding texture of individual emotion as conveyed through the possibilities of language. His poems, which have been characterized as “short, terse and poignant,” reflect an affinity for and extension of contemporary verse experimentalism and of the potentialities for verse created by such masters of jazz as Charlie Parker, who Creeley acknowledged helped shape his...

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pp. 172-195

Allen ginsberg, perhaps the best-known American poet after World War II, changed the face of poetry and culture. Bob Dylan has written that Ginsberg’s “Howl” signaled “a new type of human existence.” Declaiming his poems in coffeehouses and auditoriums, Ginsberg made himself a celebrity. He aligned poetic innovation with popular...

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pp. 196-203

Deftly witty, and brimming with gracious allusion and subtle wordplay, James Merrill’s poems often create a tone of rarified amusement that seems to glide above the fray of ordinary existence. Yet his poems nonetheless remain deeply immersed in the everyday details of contemporary experience, and they can turn from playful lightness or whimsical...

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pp. 204-211

Frank o’hara—often campy and witty, frequently provocative, and sometimes tense and introverted—celebrated everyday life in New York City. Writing in the 1950s and 1960s, he chronicled dailiness in a city that was emerging as the cultural capital of the Cold War West. Like his fellow member of the New York school of poetry, John Ashbery...

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pp. 212-226

John ashbery, a great poet of interior states, also explores the interiors of language. He troubles the relation of word to meaning, exploring poetry’s capacity for indirection, implication, and condensation. He emphasizes the importance of both subjective and material reality by positing that language can depict them only partially...

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pp. 226-235

Anne sexton was a leader in the “confessional” school of poetry, though she disavowed that term. As an offshoot of her Freudian analysis, she began exploring hidden, raw, and unassuaged feelings in poetry. Other poets such as Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath (both included in this anthology...

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pp. 235-238

Joseph awad, like his modernist precursors Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, maintained two professional identities. During the day he was “a man in a suit” who worked as a public relations executive, and at night he wrote poetry on legal pads and notebooks at the kitchen table of his family home in Virginia. Relatively unknown...

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pp. 239-253

Throughout her long and distinguished career, Adrienne Rich’s poetry has been continuously engaged with a series of interrelated preoccupations. These include the issues of sexual equality and cultural identity; the challenge of finding a persuasive and compelling poetic voice—and of giving voice to the silenced—while employing, of...

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pp. 253-256

Gary snyder has been leading a countercultural movement founded on heightened ecological and spiritual awareness since the 1950s. He is a leading “eco” poet of the United States and the Pacific Rim, having published more than twenty-five books to date. His poetry, as Patrick Murphy has written, is transcultural. It combines an elliptical...

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pp. 256-258

Derek walcott is one of the few poets from the Americas to receive a Nobel Prize in literature. In addition to his success as a poet, Walcott enjoys a worldwide reputation as a playwright in both drama and musical theater. His writing places him at the intersections of U.S., British, African, Dutch, Caribbean, and postcolonial cultures...

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pp. 259-277

Sylvia plath wrote poems with meticulous care and blazing intensity. She channeled into her poetry all of her personal anguish and fierceness as well as the political opposition to war, injustice, and iniquitous gender roles that was circulating through segments of Anglo-American culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She pioneered a new, more...

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pp. 278-284

A prolific and controversial author who is equally at home in many genres—including drama, music criticism, fiction, essays, and autobiography— Amiri Baraka has written poetry marked by an inimitably jazzy, profane, freewheeling, ironically charged, and transgressive style that mixes jagged rhythms with edgy wit in support of...

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pp. 285-294

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, diane di prima was the most prominent woman poet of the Beat Generation. She wrote in the Beat style of social nonconformity and conversational free association, though more succinctly than did many of her peers...

PART TWO Late-Twentieth-Century /Early-Twenty-first-Century Poetry

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pp. 297-300

It is hard to pin down what writers mean when they use the term “postmodernism.” Some use it to indicate a spirit of experimentalism: a fragmenting and foregrounding of language, a dismantling of the lyric “I,” and a requirement that the reader collaborate in the construction of meaning. Others utilize the term to indicate a critique of social surfaces...

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pp. 301-307

A language poet and a feminist, susan howe writes poems filled with hesitations, repetitions, ellipses, and unexpected juxtapositions. Reading them, it’s often hard to know what is being referred to and who is doing the referring. The poems are inherently mysterious, challenging the reader to make some sort of sense of...

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pp. 307-309

Luis omar salinas is regarded as one of the founders of contemporary Chicano poetry as well as an important social advocate. His first book, The Crazy Gypsy, became an anthem for many Chicano activists and is often considered a landmark in Chicano literature and culture. His poetry is by turns political, introspective, observant, and...

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pp. 309-312

Michael s. harper is one of the outstanding voices in contemporary American poetry. Since the early 1970s, he has eloquently advocated on behalf of the poetry and culture of African Americans as well as poets who cross cultural boundaries, such as Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. While Harper draws heavily on both jazz and folk...

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pp. 313-317

Kathleen spivack brings a unique warmth, passion, and sense of humor to her deeply personal poems about love, family, creativity, and women’s experience. Unpretentious in tone, the poems look at the practice of everyday life in original and compelling ways. A friend of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath and such senior poets as Robert Lowell...

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pp. 317-327

Frank bidart has written some of the most powerful poems of the postmodern era. Unlike some of his peers, he chooses to make himself vulnerable rather than seeking a cool, ironic perspective. His poems possess a passionate intelligence that is all their own. They have the dignity of tragic drama, the weight of a philosophical meditation, and the complexity...

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pp. 328-332

Robert pinsky has emerged as one of the most persuasive advocates for poetry on the contemporary American scene. While serving an unprecedented three terms as the nation’s Poet Laureate, Pinsky initiated the Favorite Poems Project, which “is dedicated to celebrating, documenting and encouraging poetry’s role in Americans’ lives.” Educated at Rutgers...

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pp. 332-340

Bob dylan is one of the creative giants of the past half century. He has changed popular music by merging country and folk traditions with electric rock and roll. He combined musical lyrics with poetry. His lyrics mingle politics, spirituality, surrealism, and psychology with verbal and imaginative play. And he has produced a seemingly endless...

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pp. 341-350

Lyn hejinian is one of the founders of the Language poetry movement, in which poetry engages with contemporary ideas about discourse and subjectivity. Language poetry seeks to disturb the social and political status quo by using language in a radically nonnormative fashion. It defies assumptions that the relation of word to referent—or poetic...

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pp. 350-352

Alex kuo, best known for his fiction, was an American Book Award winner for Lipstick and Other Stories in 2002. But he is also a major Chinese-American poet and one of the first Chinese American to have published a book of poetry. Born in Boston, he received his B.A. from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa...

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pp. 353-363

Wanda coleman writes poems notable for both their pride and their introspection. She is, as she once called herself, “the warrior queen,” avidly asserting her solidarity with other African Americans and women, and indeed with all people who fight injustice. She has said that “my anger knows no bounds. . . . Maybe the word ‘perceptive’ has to be...

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pp. 364-372

Rae armantrout explores the ironies of contemporary life in an elliptical style, speaking as much through what is unsaid as what is said. Interested in what happens around her in small moments rather than in extended periods of time, she locates the humor, loneliness, and menace in the way we live now—the suburban paradise dusted by...

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pp. 372-374

Linda hogan, along with other such major poets as Joy Harjo and Sherman Alexie, addresses the complex history of Native American rooted existence and diaspora. Equally important, she has established herself as a leading ecofeminist. Suffused with Native American spirituality and feminist awareness, her writing seeks to heal cultural wounds...

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pp. 376-378

Although the vietnam war is usually dated from 1965 to 1975, historians continue to grapple with the provisionary dating of this historical “moment” as well as the outcome of the war and its legacy. When we examine the poetry of the Vietnam era, many divergent and often contradictory perspectives emerge. With hundreds of books...

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pp. 378-384

A poet influenced by jazz, nathaniel mackey creates improvised, rhythmic poems that evoke the sense of being far from home, on an immense journey from somewhere to somewhere else. His texts create dreamscapes of language, in which words are in close touch with their sounds, and in which African- American characters...

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pp. 384-385

Gerald mccarthy is best known for his spare, devastating poems about the Vietnam War and its aftermath. McCarthy was born in upstate New York, the eldest son of an Italian-American mother and a working-class Irish-American father. He joined the U.S. Marines at the age of seventeen and served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968....

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pp. 386-388

W. d. ehrhart grew up in rural Pennsylvania, the son of a Protestant minister and a special education teacher. Upon graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served for three years, including thirteen months in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Subsequently he received a B.A. from Swarthmore, an M.A. from...

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pp. 388-393

Carol frost creates poems of a sometimes painful beauty, poems that often dramatize moments of displacement or metamorphosis, when the observer’s sense of reality undergoes a profound and disturbing challenge. In some cases, as in her poem of the dream life, “A Good Night’s Sleep,” that change might be temporary. In others, such as “Pure,” the change might be forever. Frost’s poems are often set in nature...

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pp. 394-401

Victor hernández cruz writes exuberant poems that often mix English, Spanish, and other languages in what he has termed “linguistic stereo.” A Nuyorican poet—born in Puerto Rico but raised in New York—Cruz also mixes diverse cultural references, ranging from the Americas to Europe and Africa. His themes are cultural hybridity, political and spiritual liberation, and the joys of living. His poems possess enormous verbal gusto, employing remarkable rhythms and repetitions...

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pp. 401-409

Charles bernstein writes what he calls “impermeable” texts. That is, as a founder and practitioner of Language poetry, he writes poems that highlight the density of language and invite the reader to collaborate in the construction of the text’s meanings. If his language were made of glass, it would be stained glass, not a transparent pane. One notices the patterns in the words, the stains in the glass, while the...

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pp. 410-412

Carolyn forché has innovated the concept of a “poetry of witness.” A former journalist for Amnesty International, she brings the news of political injustice from around the world. Her poetry continues a tradition of moral awareness that includes such European poets as Anna Akhmatova and Paul Celan, and such Latin American poets as Claribel...

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pp. 412-417

Maurya simon’s poetry conveys a persistent effort to achieve spiritual and imaginative insight. At the same time, her work is intensely connected to the things of this world—sights to be seen, sufferings to be imagined, the existential “tunnels” and “windows” to be experienced (as she writes in “Enough”). In “The Bishop of Mysore...

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pp. 417-426

John yau writes poetry that challenges habitual ways of perceiving and communicating. His poems have a brilliant but elusive quality, often giving way to wordplay. They hint at autobiography, social analysis, and ideas without going beyond innuendo. They show no interest in abstract statement or precise description. These are works...

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pp. 427-428

Ray a. young bear, a member of the Meskwaki tribe, was raised on the Meskwaki Tribal Settlement in central Iowa, where he lives today with his wife and collaborator, Stella Young Bear. He is a poet, novelist, and performance artist who has toured with his performance group, Black Eagle Child. A native speaker of Meskwaki, Young Bear...

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pp. 428-431

Theresa hak kyung cha was born in Pusan, Korea, the middle child of five siblings. Her mother was a teacher and her father a merchant. In 1962, the family left Korea for the United States. After the family settled in San Francisco,...

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pp. 431-435

Joy harjo’s visionary poetry transforms the contemporary world with Native American wisdom. It fully acknowledges the harsh realities of contemporary culture, such as environmental depredation, commercial superficiality, and urban alienation. “We are all strange in this place,” as she says in “The Path to the Milky Way Leads through Los Angeles.” Yet her poetry suggests that Native American concepts and values...

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pp. 436-443

Rita dove’s poetry is remarkable for its nuanced and beautifully observed exploration of the lives of ordinary people. She is drawn toward what she calls “ ‘the underside of history,’ the dramas of ordinary people—the quiet courage of their actions, all which buoy up the big events.” Dove was for many years a student of the cello (she now plays viola da gamba), and her poems have a graceful musicality that, combined with...

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pp. 443-447

A poet, playwright, and essayist, cherríe moraga has helped found the Chicana literary tradition in the United States. Her poems are at once deeply personal and highly aware of their political and cultural significances. They contribute to the developing body of writing by radical and queer women of color. Early in her career, Moraga...

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pp. 447-449

One of the major voices in contemporary American literature, Naomi Shihab Nye is renowned for her fiction, songs, and videos as well as her poetry. She is often compared with Gary Snyder as a poet of spirituality and nature. Nye’s mentor, the poet William Stafford, has praised her poetry for its “transcendent” vividness, warmth, and human...

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pp. 449-453

Alberto ríos was raised in Nogales, Arizona, on the U.S.–Mexican border in the Sonoran Desert. His poetry recreates what he has called “a place of exchange,” a threshold space that “reckons with the world a little differently.” His poems of childhood memory evoke various kinds of “in-between” states—between the English and Spanish languages, American and Mexican cultures, childhood and puberty (in “...

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pp. 453-458

Gary soto writes crystalline portraits of working-class life in the United States and Mexico. Focusing on Chicana/o and Mexican characters, some imagined and some observed, he pinpoints the emotional and imaginative complexity of their lives. The poems speak indirectly but powerfully about issues of ethnicity and class. They often evoke...

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pp. 458-461

Mark doty’s poems move in searching ways from vivid, complex surfaces toward intriguing and poignant depths. Regarding “A Display of Mackerel,” which appears below, Doty observes that “sometimes it seems to me as if metaphor were the advance guard of the mind; something in us reaches out, into the landscape in front of us, looking for the right vessel, the right vehicle, for whatever will serve.” For Doty,...

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pp. 461-465

Harryette mullen’s poetry explores the cultural politics of language. Her poems often juxtapose words according to an arbitrary formula, such as a letter of the alphabet (“I’ve just returned from Kenya and Korea”), or they tear words apart to reveal new words within (“yell ow”). These juxtapositions and deconstructions expose...

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pp. 465-468

Gjertrud schackenberg’s poetry offers a poignant exploration of lost worlds, a probing into the partly forgotten, partly remembered world of private and public history. Her work explores memory, surviving artifacts, documents, published accounts, and other myths and records to recover that which is recoverable from the “lost world” of...

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pp. 468-472

Elmaz abinader is a major poet, playwright, performer, and activist who currently lives and works in Oakland, California. In her work, she focuses on bringing Islamic and Christian cultures together, often focusing on the values of compassion, equity, and respect for the earth....

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pp. 472-485

A leading contemporary poet, lorna dee cervantes writes poems that explore culture, language, and personal experience in complex and imagistic ways. Employing Spanish as well as English, she engages in an intertextual conversation with writers throughout the Americas. Her books bear epigraphs from cultural figures as diverse as Sylvia Plath (included in this anthology), Frida Kahlo (a Mexican visual...

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pp. 486-491

Calling herself a “chinese-american poet,” marilyn chin has said that her poetry “both laments and celebrates my ‘hyphenated’ identity.” “How I Got That Name,” for example, tells how her father changed her name from “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn,” for the iconic American movie star Marilyn Monroe. In her witty, sometimes sardonic...

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pp. 492-500

Cathy song writes poems of exquisite observation and reflection. Her work belongs to the venerable tradition of the personal lyric, based in perception and memory, and anchored in a stable but responsive “I.” Each poem tells a story of human development and relationship, with subtle nuances of individual, interpersonal feeling. Each highlights Song’s powers of attention and empathy. Many of Song’s poems...

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pp. 500-506

A leading los angeles postmodernist, amy gerstler writes witty yet unsettling accounts of contemporary emotional life. Her poems flash with the glamour of the popular culture texts they often parody. Below the seductive surface, however, the reader comes into contact with some of the less attractive components of the postmodern...

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pp. 507-508

Li-young lee writes autobiographical poems that explore the complexities of ethnicity and the immigrant experience. The memory poem included here, “The Gift,” recalls the father’s love, and it also makes a connection between the “gift” of care that the father gave to the speaker and the similar “gift” that the speaker bestows on his wife...

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pp. 509-511

Juan delgado’s poetry portrays the lives of those on social and economic margins. His characters are often immigrants who inhabit the cultural border zone between Mexico and the United States. They live on the edge of things—in impoverished neighborhoods, in the desert, in places that others avoid. Ordinary people, they make their...

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pp. 512-513

Bao-long chu was a child in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and moved to the United States as an immigrant afterward. He earned his M.F.A. in poetry at the University of Houston. He now works as associate director of the Writers in the Schools organization in Houston. His work has been anthologized in such collections as Both Sides Now and...

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pp. 514-517

One of the leading writers and cultural figures on the contemporary American scene, Sherman Alexie is a cutting-edge poet, fiction writer, and screenwriter. Whether dressed in U.S. colonial costume with long pink evening gloves and mimicking Martha Washington telling the audience “Feed me,” or using a more understated style, Alexie draws in his audience with humor and then delivers a resounding...

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pp. 517-520

Queen latifah—sometimes comic, often bold, always spontaneous—is one of popular culture’s major contemporary icons. Whether dressed as a campy vamp or a defiant rapper, she asserts her strength in a musical and film culture that the media often presents as male-dominated. Queen Latifah has been compared to such modernist African...


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pp. 521-522


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pp. 523-530


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pp. 531-535

E-ISBN-13: 9780813562902
E-ISBN-10: 0813562902
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813551555

Page Count: 592
Publication Year: 2012

Volume Title: 3