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  • Poetry: The 1950s to the Present
  • Jim Cocola

From its first appearance, Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry, 1945–1960 (1960) offered a different kind of anthology, registering as a salvo from a very particular periphery of the literary scene, and since publication that landmark collection has moved gradually toward the center of American letters. A profoundly destabilizing document, foregrounding innovators from Robert Duncan and Charles Olson to John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, it also betrays the exclusionary tendencies of its time. It included only four women among nearly four dozen men, and its closest brushes with minority perspectives came via Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, and Jack Spicer. In the 50-plus years since, newer generations of American poets have emerged from even more diverse sets of backgrounds and experiences, and if poetry anthologies have been slow to catch up to this reality, literary scholarship has been even slower. Not long ago, diversity in coverage in this chapter of American Literary Scholarship meant attention to African American literature and scholarship; now it also means recognition of the succeeding florescence of several other minority literatures and scholarships. “When I die,” Amiri Baraka wrote in “leroy” (1969)—having renounced his birth name, Everett LeRoi Jones, earlier that decade—“the consciousness I carry I will to / black people. May they pick me apart and take the / useful parts. … And leave / the bitter bullshit rotten white parts / alone.” Baraka died in 2014, and his passing was met with myriad tributes—not only from black people but also from others taking the “useful parts” of his example in speaking from their own subject [End Page 363] positions. Consider Dorothy Wang’s Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford), a major event in the field. How many scholarly books prompt national conferences just months after publication? Wang’s did, with the University of Montana’s “Thinking Its Presence: Race, Creative Writing, and Literary Study.” Meanwhile, in other circles, the writing of conceptual, difficult, and experimental poetry continues apace, often without reference to and sometimes in direct provocation of people of color. Can experimental and minority poetries converge more clearly, as in the cases of poets such as Will Alexander and John Yau, or must they tend to mutually repulse one another? Will one vanquish the other? Might both implode into something altogether different? The new American poetry lives. Long live the newer American poetries? Yes, probably—but which newer American poetries?

i On The New American Poetry

In John R. Woznicki’s edited collection The New American Poetry: Fifty Years Later (Rowman and Littlefield), Donald Allen’s “visionary anthology” gets its due in a series of compelling essays. Woznicki’s introduction (pp. 1–14) presents Allen’s The New American Poetry, 1945–1960 as a work not merely oppositional in its own era but positively formative for our own. Recognizing prior contributions on the anthology’s influence by Alan Golding, Marjorie Perloff, and Jed Rasula, Woznicki gathers essays extending beyond the “hoary platitudes” more recent critics have tended to offer. Woznicki’s belief in the “monumental influence” of The New American Poetry, 1945–1960 is so strong that he projects commemorative projects similar to his own 50 years hence. This confidence seems overblown. Poetry anthologies from 1860 had more currency in 1914 than in 1964, and poetry anthologies from 1960 are likely to have more currency in 2014 than in 2064. The fate of Allen’s contribution rests in the hands of poets to come.

Joshua Hoeynck’s and David Herd’s chapters (pp. 29–58; pp. 155–70) note Charles Olson’s influence on Allen, pointing to his classificatory schemes (“Origin—Black Mountain” and “Beat”) and exclusionary principles (“wldn’t myself add … either the ‘aunties’ or the ‘grandpas’”). Ben Hickman looks at the anthology’s considerable influence in Britain (pp. 81–108), which helped forge connections between American and British poets as well as a 1965 reading at Royal Albert Hall featuring [End Page 364] several British poets alongside Corso and Ginsberg. Megan Swihart Jewell examines the anthology’s impress on Kathleen Fraser (pp. 133–54) in spite of its hypermasculine emphasis. It is Jewell...


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