Sunday, 20 November 2011

Melvin B. Tolson Is Better Than Wallace Stevens Says Rita Dove

A recent review of Rita Dove's new anthology of 20th century American Poetry, for Penguin, by Helen Vendler, really takes exception to a multicultural Keith Tuma-style approach to the anthology.  Vendler is clearly on the side of a canon of well-made poems, versus Dove's attention to identity poetry, and poetry of the often marginalised.  Both sides can become entrenched.  I welcome diversity, but Vendler, in this case, seems to have a firmer grasp of history and quality.  Surely it must be wrong in a Kantian sense to include twice as much of Melvin B. Tolson as Wallace Stevens?  Stevens is one of the pillars of American modernist and post-modernist poetics.  Tolson is an important outrider of the Harlem Renaissance, and a key African-American modernist.  If this decision gets more Tolson readers, that's fine.  But such large-scale anthologies do also need to keep some sense of balance.  I look forward to reading it myself.
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