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The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry

The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry

by Michael Collier (Editor), Stanley Plumly (Editor)

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The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry includes more than 80 of America's most vital poets writing at the end of the century. Comprehensive and eclectic, the anthology provides an impressive and representative range of poetic voices and styles. Most of the poems have been written in the past five years and most have not yet been collected in


The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry includes more than 80 of America's most vital poets writing at the end of the century. Comprehensive and eclectic, the anthology provides an impressive and representative range of poetic voices and styles. Most of the poems have been written in the past five years and most have not yet been collected in books. As a result, The New Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry is unusually fresh, immediate, and perfect for classroom use as well as pleasure reading.

Includes Agha Shahid Ali, Frank Bidart, Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Louise Glueck, Marilyn Hacker, Michael Harper, Edward Hirsch, Yusef Komunyakaa, Li-Young Lee, Philip Levine, Larry Levis, Campbell McGrath, Heather McHugh, William Matthews, W. S. Merwin, Linda Pastan, Robert Pinsky, Alberto Rios, Gerald Stern, Mark Strand, James Tate, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Rosanna Warren, C. K. Williams, C. D. Wright, Charles Wright, and many others.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The self-proclaimed descendants of Lowell, Plath and Berryman (and, further back, Frost) meet yearly for a Vermont series of workshops and readings from which this anthology takes its name. Initially, one could say that its mostly confessionally based metric has simply devolved: the narcissism is still there, with most of these poems lingering over anxieties, "deep sensibilities," distrust of the world, adultery, pleasant afternoons and vacations, etc. But the formal mastery of the Lowell generation--with its ties to Eliot's modernism, Auden's precosity, Williams's directness and his original prosody--are gone. While most of this work is not confessional in the strict sense, it is disheartening how few of the poems here rise above the basic frame of the exhausted, inescapable self in the world, or how, when a different theme is adopted, it is still tied to basic formal tricks--the piling up of redundant detail as a baroque display of knowledge is one of them--which renders the work repetitive and mundane. One hundred poets were invited to select from their own work; eighty-two came forward, including: Marvin Bell, Stephen Berg, Frank Bidart, Lucille Clifton, editors Michael Collier and Stanley Plumly, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Tess Gallagher, Louise Gl ck, Linda Gregerson, Marilyn Hacker, Michael S. Harper, Brenda Hillman, Mark Jarman, Galway Kinnell, Li-Young Lee, Philip Levine, the late William Matthews, W.S. Merwin, Robert Pinsky, Alberto Rios, David St. John, Gerald Stern, Mark Strand, James Tate, C.K. Williams and C.D. Wright. These are big names, and they deliver some virtuoso performances. (Many are also found the Best American, reviewed above.) But while there is some incontestably brilliant work here--Gl ck, Gregerson, Strand, Matthews and Komunyaaka stand out--the book reflects less of a "commitment to the future of the nation's poetry," as the editors profess, than a veneration for its glorious past. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this ample work, successor to the notable Bread Loaf Anthology of 1985, 82 poets select their own work, and the range of voices and styles included is immense: from Agha Shahid Ali, Frank Bidart, and Yusef Komunyakaa to Campbell McGrath, Heather McHugh, Alberto Rios, and more. What is most striking, perhaps, about this collection is that once again, as so often in literature, salvation has come from the margins: whenever there seems to be a danger of complacent monochromy, remarkable poets come forward with newly eloquent messages from their experience of difference in class, color, race, language, or sexuality. Collier and Plumly, both professors at the University of Maryland, have assembled what is perhaps the best single volume of contemporary poetry now available--a superb introduction for the new reader and a splendid handbook for the poet and critic. For most collections.--Graham Christian, Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, MA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference
Publication date:
Bread Loaf Anthology
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

RITA DOVE ---------

    Evening Primrose

Poetically speaking, growing up is mediocrity. —Ned Rorem

Neither rosy nor prim
not cousin to the cowslip
nor the extravagant fuchsia,
I doubt anyone has ever
picked one for show
though the woods must be fringed
with their lemony effusions.

Sun blathers its baronial
endorsement, but they refuse
to join the ranks. Summer
brings them in armfuls,
yet, when the day is large,
you won't see them fluttering
the length of the road.

They'll wait until the world's
tucked in and the sky's
one ceaseless shimmer—then
lift their saturated eyelids
and blaze, blaze
all night long
for no one.

Now the blue
herons are trying to gather the souls that hover
just above the water. Their calls fall around us
like a blanket. And who here is not buried in another
person's heart? Everything we breathe is a gift
from the past. This late in the season even the spider
webs have disappeared. A few stars are setting
into nests below the horizon. A few words like these are
never going to shovel the terrible past into place.
We can smell the overwhelming must of these graves,
the broken wings of these souls, but we will never smell
what they dreamt. Maybe it is all right. We are filling
our lives with whatever love they've left.

Now the trees are going
to let their dreams fly out like bats, like herons,
like bees, like anything that lives and dies, the vapor
trail caught for a moment in the light before it disappears,
the moon starting to open its eyes with something like hope.

RICHARD JACKSON ---------------

    Reincarnation of a Lovebird

What's wrong with money is what's wrong with love;

it spurns those who need it most for someone already rolling in it.
—William Matthews

Already it is snowing, the branches spattering out of darkness
in a way I imagine the nerve endings of that grasshopper did
on my sill last summer while the nightingale finished it.
Already old fears condense on the panes
with you a thousand miles or words away, my friend
recently buried, the light in my room blaring all night
the way it's done in prisons, trying to keep too much emotion
from scurrying out of the corners. There's a blind spot in
the middle of your eye, the guilt you feel for loving so fully
in the face of death, or dying in spite of love's power.
These verbs are searchlights for memories gone over the wall.
It's all we can do to embrace the distance between us
while night limps across these rooftops, while we preside
over the heart's fire sale. Outside the streetlights hook
a reluctant sky. Memory won't save everything.
That nightingale disappeared into the pyracantha bush
to flute a song we call imitation but may only be
another lie. Charlie Mingus' bass would die
into an arrangement, then reincarnate itself as a form of
love. It's time to decide if this is an elegy or a love
poem lurking behind one of the smoked glass windshields
that go up or down the street every few minutes. What we
should have said to each other waits like an insect
all winter for a false spring. The language of stars no longer brings
consolation or love. The Egyptians invented the phrase, "eat,
drink and be merry," you know the rest, but kept a skeleton
hung at dinner parties in case you tried to forget. Sometimes,
my love, the heart taps its way along sidewalks
like a blind man and muggers are gleeful on the corners.
What we need are more emergency vehicles for the soul.
We need to knock at the door of the heart's timekeeper.
The tracks I'll leave later when I go out into the purity of
snow will destroy it. The scientist's light on the atom alters
what was there. Every glass we raise we eventually have to lower.

GALWAY KINNELL --------------

    How Could She Not

for Jane Kenyon (1947—1995)

It is a day after many days of storms.
Having been washed and washed, the air glitters;
small heaped cumuli are blowing across the sky;
a shower, its parallel streaks visible
against the firs, douses the crocuses.
We knew it would happen one day this week.
Now, when I hear that she has died,
from the open door I look across at New Hampshire:
There, too, the sun is bright and clouds
make their shadowy ways along the horizon,
and it occurs to me: How could it not have been today?
In another room, Kiri Te Kanawa is singing
the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, faintly,
as if far in the past, as if just barely hearable
above the rattle of an ancient mowing machine
which is drawing its cutter bar's little
reciprocating triangles through the timothy
to stalks being made to lie down in the sunshine.

Did she wake, in the dark of early this morning,
almost used up by a year of pain and despair
remitted now and then by hope
that had an inner-taste of lead? Did she glimpse,
in first light, the world as she loved it
and see that, now, it would not be wrong for her to die
and that she could leave her beloved in a day like paradise?
Did her hold loosen a little, near sunrise?

Having these last days spoken her whole heart
to him, who spoke his whole heart to her,
might she not have felt that now, in the silence,
he would not feel any word was missing?
When full daylight came, how could she not
have slipped into a spell, with him next to her,
his arms still holding her, as they had done,
it may have seemed, all her life?
How could her cheek not press a moment to his cheek,
which presses itself to hers from now on?
How could she not rise and go, with sunlight
at the window, beloved arms around her, and the sound,
fading, deepening, hard to say, of a single-engine
plane in the distance no one else hears?

W. S. MERWIN ------------

    What Is a Garden

All day working happily down near the stream bed
the light passing into the remote opalescence
it returns to as the year wakes toward winter
a season of rain in a year already rich
in rain with masked light emerging on all sides
in the new leaves of the palms quietly waving
time of mud and slipping and of overhearing
the water under the sloped ground going on whispering
as it travels time of rain thundering at night
and of rocks rolling and echoing in the torrent
and of looking up after noon through the high branches
to see fine rain drifting across the sunlight
over the valley that was abused and at last left
to fill with thickets of rampant aliens
bringing habits but no stories under the mango trees
already vast as clouds there I keep discovering
beneath the tangle the ancient shaping of water
to which the light of an hour comes back as to a secret
and there I planted young palms in places I had not pondered
until then I imagined their roots setting out in the dark
knowing without knowledge I kept trying to see them standing
in that bend of the valley in the light that would come

ROSANNA WARREN --------------

    Island in the Charles

By being scholar first of that new night. —Richard Crashaw

Taking the well-worn path in the mind though dusk encroaches
upon the mind, taking back alleys careful step by step
past parked cars and trash containers, three blocks to the concrete ramp
of the footbridge spanning the highway with its rivering, four-lane
unstaunchable traffic, treading on shadow and slant broken light,

my mother finds her way. By beer bottles, over smeared
Trojans, across leaf muck, she follows the track, clutching her
jacket close. The footbridge lofts her over the flashing cars
and sets her down, gently, among trees, where she is a child
in the weave of boughs, and leaf shapes plait the breeze.

She fingers silver-green blades of the crack willow, she tests dark grooves
of crack-willow bark. The tree has a secret. Its branches pour
themselves back toward earth, and my mother pauses, dredging a breath
up out of her sluggish lungs. The blade leaves scratch
her fingertips, the corrugated bark

releases a privacy darker than cataract veils.
But slashed and ribboned, glimpsed through fronds,
the river hauls its cargo of argent light
and she advances, past basswood and crab-apple clumps
along the tarmac where cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers

entranced in their varying orbits swoop
around her progress. With method, she reaches her bench,
she stations there. She sits columnular, fastened
to her difficult breath, and faces the river in late afternoon.
Behind her, voices. Before her, the current casts its glimmering

seine to a shore so distant no boundary scars
her retina, and only occasional sculls or sailboats flick
across her vision as quickened, condensing light.
There she sits, poised, while the fluent transitive Charles
draws off to the harbor and, farther, to the unseen sea

    until evening settles, and takes her in its arms.

Meet the Author

MICHAEL COLLIER is Director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and Professor of English at University of Maryland. He is author of three books of poetry, and editor of The Wesleyan Tradition: Four Decades of American Poetry (Wesleyan, 1993) and of The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology.

STANLEY PLUMLY, author of many volumes of poetry, including The Marriage in the Trees (1997) and Summer Celestial (1983), is Distinguished University Professor at University of Maryland.

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