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84 Western American Literature Bounds Out of Bounds: A Compass for Recent American and British Poetry. By Roberta Berke. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. 203 pages, $15.95.) Roberta Berke devotes four of her 176 pages of text to d.a. levy, a young poet who killed himself in 1968. Her concluding remarks: “Levy was not a great poet; much of the time he was not even a good poet; yet he should have had more than twenty-six years to explore whatever gifts he had.” Fair enough — any young person’s death, especially by his or her own hand, is both sad and disquieting. But the question arises as to whether or not levy’s suicide entitles him (especially after Berke herself has more or less dismissed him as an artist) to what really amounts to an extended discussion in a very short book purportedly on the range of post-1950’s American and British poetry. Let me continue with a list: Alan Dugan, Richard Hugo, John Logan, Philip Levine, Adrienne Rich, A. R. Ammons, Robert Hass, Ruth Stone, James Tate, Philip Lamantia, Robert Kelly, Wendell Berry, Diane Wakoski, Clayton Eshleman, W. S. Merwin, Anthony Hecht, David Ignatow, Carolyn Kizer, Russell Edson, Stanley Plumly, Harold Norse, Michael Palmer, Richard Shelton. . . . I’d venture that even the most cursory readers of recent American poetry will recognize most of these names, while more serious readers of contemporary poetry (regardless of their critical bent) will see a knowledge and understanding of these poets as crucial to any real sense of post-modern American poetry itself. So what is the point? Berke not only fails to discuss the work of any of these poets (and many, many others) — she doesn’t even mention it. There must be a reason for this, and I can think of just two possibilities. Perhaps, as Bounds Out Of Bounds is called in its subtitle a “compass,” Berke simply wants to give us a way into recent verse, in which case her book is really nothing more than a summing up of countless older studies of the type (by Malkoff, Rosenthal, Rexroth, and Boyers, for example) or the appropri­ ate chapter in the more recent Harvard Guide. When we set Bounds Out of Bounds next to its competitors — Molesworth’s The Fierce Embrace, Pinsky’s The Situation of Poetry, Mazzaro’s Postmodern American Poetry, and Altieri’s Enlarging the Temple (all fairly recent “compasses” for the same terrain) — its limitations are glaring. Further, I am distressed at the fact that a book like this, a study that is likely to be well-promoted and distributed widely, mentions only a very few American women writers. The other possibility is that Roberta Berke is British, has lived most of her life in England, has a solid undergraduate grasp of some trends in American poetry over the last thirtv years, and got bad direction from her advisers at Kent State where, according to her note, much of the research and writing was done. Some reviewers enjoy skewering authors: I do not. Berke obviously has put effort into Bounds Out of Bounds, and she is, the dust jacket tells us, Reviews 85 a “dazzling” poet. It’s just that I’m at a loss to explain why such a major university press as Oxford would publish this book. It not only adds nothing new to the field, its brief discussion of the Beats, the New York Poets, and the Black Mountain Poets are quite superficial, sorts of extended Sunday Supplement features. LEE BARTLETT The University of New Mexico The Collected Shorter Poems 1947-1977. By Robin Skelton. (Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press. 328 pages, $14.95.) Robin Skelton is perhaps best known south of the Canadian border as the editor of the distinguished Malahat Review. In Canada, England, and elsewhere, he is widely recognized as one of the most prolific poets presently writing in English, with more than fifty books to his credit including a number of fine prose studies on the nature and craft of poetry as well as translations from Gaelic, Greek, French, and German. But for some inexplic­ able reason, his books have been difficult, if not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 84-85
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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