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November 14, 2003

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The Twilight Zone of Poetry

Sanyat Sattar

Poetry is sometimes said to be complicated and vague. Yet there are many who really have the taste for verse. Here are a few new English releases.


The Best American Poetry 2003
David Lehman (series editor)
Yusef Komunyakaa (guest editor)
Scribner; September 2003

"Poetry encourages us to have dialogue through the observed, the felt, and the imaginary," writes editor Yusef Komunyakaa in his thought-provoking introduction to The Best American Poetry 2003. As a black child of the American South and a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, Komunyakaa brings his singular vision to this outstanding volume. Included here is a diverse mix of senior masters, crowd-pleasing bards, rising stars, and the fresh voices of an emerging generation. With comments from the poets elucidating their work and series editor David Lehman's eloquent foreword assessing the state of the art, The Best American Poetry 2003 is a must-have for readers of contemporary poetry.

I Am: The Selected Poetry of John Clare
Jonathan Bate (editor)
Farrar Straus & Giroux;
September 2003

Though he has steadily furnished anthology pieces, and has been cited repeatedly by John Ashbery as an influence, only recently have scholars and critics, often inspired by Clare's stands on behalf of the poor and by his "green" perspectives on forests and fields, tried to launch him as a major poet. A passionate observer of rural England, and a poet of visionary, even hallucinatory extremes, Clare (1793-1864) emerged from village poverty to modest success as a "peasant poet" before mental illness confined him to asylums, where he produced works for which there are few points of comparison. Clare's asylum poems, however, sound like nothing else on earth, but impossible to forget once heard.

Robert Lowell: Collected Poems
Frank Bidart & David Gewanter (editors)
Farrar Straus & Giroux; June 2003

In the quarter-century since his death, Lowell's personality and life have overshadowed his poetry. But here poets Bidart (who knew Lowell and who expertly dismantles Lowell's reputation as confessional poet) and Gewanter present the first collected volume of this pivotal American voice, a gathering astonishing in its breadth and power. Here are poems in manuscript; works "buried since first publication," including Lowell's first book, Land of Unlikeness (1944); and poems from his 11 ensuing collections, including Life Studies (1959) and The Dolphin (1973). Readers who think they know Lowell's work will discover new facets, and readers just venturing into Lowell's potently rendered and ceaselessly evocative poetic universe will find much to contemplate.



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