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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945 - 1980, edited by D J Enright, Reviewed.

Judgement of poetry is perhaps even more subjective than for prose. The poetic form either speaks to us or not, and our response to it is as much to do with our own views, history and experience as it is connected to the life of the poet. This collection includes many well known poets and some I’d not previously encountered. Naturally, it excludes others I’ve known and loved and some that who not so well known.

The work is arranged as individual groups of poems by each poet, ranked according to date of birth; as good a presentation as any other, given the variety of styles and content included. Of the forty poets presented here, only three are women, so it can hardly be considered a fair representation of the talent available during the period.

This anthology introduced me to some poets I will research further and others with whom I shan’t bother to develop any greater acquaintance.

What to say about a collection pulled together by another? There’s no unifying form or theme and the poets represent a wide period of writing. It seems to me that this is a time when rhyme began to diminish, free verse began to expand its influence, and form crawled into the back seat.

It is a book to be dipped into and sampled rather than read from cover to cover, but I suspect the same could be said of many poetry anthologies. I have mixed feelings about the selection; some moved me almost to tears, some bored me, a few were incomprehensible because my education failed to prepare me for their esoteric references, and a few more were simply too long for their subject matter.

But, for those who love the genre, those curious about the development of the form and those studying poetry as literature, this is a good book.

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