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California Poetry : From the Gold Rush to the Present

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2004

    California Poetry. An anthology

    California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present was published last November as the latest entry in the California Legacy series of Heyday Books. It is an anthology of poetry by California poets compiled and edited by Dana Gioia, who is currently serving as Chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts. Chryss Yost, a poet, and Jack Hicks, who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of California, Davis, joined him on the editorial team. Over one hundred poets (out of a group of thousands) are represented in the book, and the poems of each contributor are accompanied by detailed biographic profiles of the authors. In the introduction, Gioia explains that the purpose of the anthology is to provide the readers with a ¿comprehensive historic anthology of the state¿s poetry from the Gold Rush to the present.¿ Indeed, the book is a work of literary history as well an anthology of poetry. The criteria used by the editors in making selections included, literary excellence, historical importance, and representative range. To ensure the regional character of the work, the editors imposed a residence requirement. Contributors must have been born and raised in California or spent half their lives in the state. The book is organized chronologically in four sections. The first three parts cover poetic eras the editors labeled, ¿Early Poets,¿ ¿California Modernists,¿ and ¿Mid-Century Rebels and Traditionalists.¿ Familiar names are encountered, such as Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller, Ambrose Bierce, Edwin Markham, Yvor Winters, Josephine Miles, William Everson, Charles Bukowski, Thom Gunn, Richard Brautigan, and many others. Generally, the coverage is from the Gold Rush in the nineteenth century to the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1960s. The final section of the anthology is devoted to contemporary poets, most of whom have attained reputations as major literary artists. In his seminal article in a 1991 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Gioia argued that modern poetry could be more enthusiastically received by the public if, among other things, anthologists selected for their books poems that they truly liked and found qualified for further publication. It is apparent from the selections of California Poetry that the book¿s editors took Gioia¿s dictum to heart in compiling this excellent and historic anthology.

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