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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Impact of Anthologies - a personal note


Some people behind the scenes influence your life - without you knowing it. Well, at least not for a very long time. The anthology above changed my writing life, which influenced the course of the rest of my life. Donald Allen (pictured) was the editor. Of course, it was the poets who first influenced my young hungry imagination - Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Lew Welch, Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Frank O'Hara - and the Statements of Poetics at the back has also influenced me increasingly over the decades. Now, having paid attention to a recent controversial Australian poetry anthology, it brings home the power of the editor(s) in these productions once more. There is no such thing as a 'perfect' anthology but the book above sure had a positive effect on the poetics of USA, Canada and Australia/NZ, plus a big effect on forward-thinking poets of UK (mainstream poets remained staid and stuck in their ruts). Sure it left out some poets, and it created 'schools' on flimsy criteria, but its influence for the good, for the more creative, far outweighed any negative forces it created. 

In Australia we've suffered boring or ill-managed anthologies, one after the other, but the one which stands out for me as a lively and an inspiring document is The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, edited by John Tranter and Phillip Mead, published 1991. The last poet in that anthology is John Kinsella who himself has edited a number of anthologies, the most substantial - and, again, controversial - being The Penguin Book of Australian Poetry published in 2008. 

How the poetry of the English-speaking world changed after the advent of the Donald Allen anthology can be seen in these Australian anthologies and in the poetry of their editors. Many of us in a certain age group were caught up in the passion of poetry and searched and begged, borrowed or stole copies of the works of our new hero poets. Little roneoed mags appeared and even the established literary quarterlies of the universities expanded their boundaries and gradually accepted the 'new wave' of poetry, eventually going so far as appointing such poets as Poetry Editors. Wonders will never cease ... 

Today, without naming names, I can tell you that the children of some of those poets are, or have been until recently, shaping the course of Australian poetics by their influence of editorial boards and committees. The variety of lively and accepted poetry styles in our culture is dazzling - and one hell of a lot of it can be traced back to Donald Allen's anthology. 

I won't waste more of your time, but simply say the influence of anthologies should never be under-estimated as a doorway for adventurous readers and writers to expand their literary horizons. And the publishing houses who commission such works should themselves be praised for the best of them 
and held responsible for the damaging ones.

~

Thank you to Ron Silliman who had the above photos in his archives at http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/

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