Beginning in 1950 with Charles Olsen, Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology is the first anthology since Donald Allen’s groundbreaking collection to fully represent the movements of American avant-garde poetry.
Concentration and magnification make the best anthologies work, and this may be one of them. Concentration: the focus on a body of writing with a heritage, an era, or a style in common that tests shared visions and constraints. Magnification: an expanse that seems to widen and deepen as we are allowed to take a look at it, and then another look. For anyone carping at the idea of the postmodern or the avant-garde as wanly intellectual, fiercely separatist, beside the point, or even nonexistent, Hoover's large-scale collection of recent experimental American poetry (and a concluding selection of essays about it) should persuade that it's not. He brings together more than 100 writers from the 1950s and since--Olson, Duncan, O'Hara, Ginsberg, Corso, Dorn, Major, Ashbery, Guest--whose adventures with the language renew it for far more than a readymade membership. The fact that some of the poets are sine qua nons and others aren't simply leaves the whole tribe more interesting. There's almost no point in listing names, except to indicate breadth; the same could be said for the ``schools'' represented. For literary positions have a way easing from their own strictures and outgrowing acolytic expectation when the words themselves are richly transformed and reformed--as they are here. Hoover is the editor of New American Writing. (Apr.)