Tuesday, November 13, 2007

to the barricades

I'm reading an essay-roundup of then-current poetry in the September 1960 issue of the Atlantic. Peter Davison, Harvard '49 and editor at Harvard University Press, wrote the piece. He covers several new books and begins with four paragraps about Donald Allen's New American Poetry. Davison disdains the new Americans and suggests that the term "recent" would be apter than "new."

Words Davison uses about NAP: "subcommanders," "exclusive" (as in intolerant), "confusing," "verbose," "perverse," "inability," "marchers."

"Subcommanders"? Davison doesn't hide his trope: these inarticulate new Americans are an army of partisans--ideologists. Although other poetry under review took up social and political themes, it was Allen's strange collection of young poets of whom the reviewer had never heard that were "sociological." NAP of course marked a return to poetics from the thematic emphasis of mainstream verse of the 50s but here: "I am afraid that this collection as a whole has more sociological than poetic interest about it."

And "marchers"? This dismissal has about it the usual worry about rude political force. Funny how in 1960 still, so late into the anti-ideological era, rebukes of the avant-garde use a political rhetoric. "Coterie" = subversive cell. Yet what was it that mainstream critics were commending if not a different coterie, and was not this critical gesture itself "exclusive" in its willful avoidance of Pound-Williams poetics (Davison identifies it as such) as an aesthetic?

Photo above right: Peter Davison. B. 1928. Served in various editorial capacities at Atlantic for 50 years. Son of English poet Edward Davison. His first book of poems was published in 1963.