So, Rita Dove and Helen Vendler have been having a pretty big argument in the pages of the New York Times. Vendler wrote a slamming criticism of Dove’s anthology, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, and Dove recently defended it while making some new attacks of her own.
Not sure where I stand on it yet, but I’d love to hear people’s thoughts, since the New York Times doesn’t offer a comments section. I think there are good points from both writers–what do you think?
I also wanted to help clear one point up, in case you got as confused as I did. At the very end of her review, Vendler quotes from four of Dove’s anthologized poets to make her point that:
“Dove would like to see more poets like Frost, Williams, and Cummings, and fewer like Merrill, Graham, and Ammons. Most of the new poets at the end of the book are writing in her preferred demotic style, with openings like these:” Vendler then proceeds to give lines from four different poems, with no author names or attribution, and in a format that almost makes it seem like the quote all comes from one poem:
We were so poor.
The air was a quiver
This is my father.
See? He is young.
Off go the crows from the roof.
The crows can’t hold on.
Home’s the place we head for in our sleep.”
Here are the full-length poems where these four different quotes were taken from. In my opinion, they are not nearly as “flat” or “demotic” in their entirety as Vendler represents them here with these one-liners. Then again, to perhaps support Vendler’s point that some pretty “un-canonical” poems were chosen, take notice when you’re reading these poems where I had to go to find them online. Two are on the Poetry Foundation’s site, yes, but the other two were quite obscure. Also, just for the record, one of these poems is by a white woman, one by a black man, one by a Latina woman, and one by a Chicana woman. Dove later calls Vendler’s assertion that the poets in her anthology use “a restricted vocabulary” thinly-veiled racism. Again, what do you think?
Disclaimer: I haven’t read the anthology, just wanted to give this context.