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When Harriet Monroe founded Poetry magazine in Chicago in 1912, she began with an image: the Open Door. “May the great poet we are looking for never find it shut, or half-shut, against his ample genius!” For a century, the most important and enduring poets have walked through that door—William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens in its first years, Rae Armantrout and Kay Ryan in 2011. And at the same time, Poetry continues to discover the new voices who will be read a century ...
When Harriet Monroe founded Poetry magazine in Chicago in 1912, she began with an image: the Open Door. “May the great poet we are looking for never find it shut, or half-shut, against his ample genius!” For a century, the most important and enduring poets have walked through that door—William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens in its first years, Rae Armantrout and Kay Ryan in 2011. And at the same time, Poetry continues to discover the new voices who will be read a century from now.
Poetry’s archives are incomparable, and to celebrate the magazine’s centennial, editors Don Share and Christian Wiman combed them to create a new kind of anthology, energized by the self-imposed limitation to one hundred poems. Rather than attempting to be exhaustive or definitive—or even to offer the most familiar works—they have assembled a collection of poems that, in their juxtaposition, echo across a century of poetry. Adrienne Rich appears alongside Charles Bukowski; poems by Isaac Rosenberg and Randall Jarrell on the two world wars flank a devastating Vietnam War poem by the lesser-known George Starbuck; August Kleinzahler’s “The Hereafter” precedes “Prufrock,” casting Eliot’s masterpiece in a new light. Short extracts from Poetry’s letters and criticism punctuate the verse selections, hinting at themes and threads and serving as guides, interlocutors, or dissenting voices.
The resulting volume is an anthology like no other, a celebration of idiosyncrasy and invention, a vital monument to an institution that refuses to be static, and, most of all, a book that lovers of poetry will devour, debate, and keep close at hand.
Don't be "viewy"—leave that to the writers of pretty little philosophic essays. Don't be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it.
EZRA POUND, March 1913
I would trade the bulk of contemporary anecdotal free verse for more incisive, chilling poetry.... There's more pathos in a poetry that recognizes the universe is central; the poor human, eccentric.
ANGE MLINKO, October 2007
EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON
She fears him, and will always ask
What fated her to choose him;
She meets in his engaging mask
All reasons to refuse him;
But what she meets and what she fears
Are less than are the downward years,
Drawn slowly to the foamless weirs
Of age, were she to lose him.
Between a blurred sagacity
That once had power to sound him,
And Love, that will not let him be
The seeker that she found him,
Her pride assuages her, almost,
As if it were alone the cost.
He sees that he will not be lost,
And waits, and looks around him.
A sense of ocean and old trees
Envelops and allures him;
Tradition, touching all he sees
Beguiles and reassures him;
And all her doubts of what he says
Are dimmed with what she knows of days,
Till even prejudice delays,
And fades—and she secures him.
The falling leaf inaugurates
The reign of her confusion;
The pounding wave reverberates
The crash of her illusion;
And home, where passion lived and died,
Becomes a place where she can hide,—
While all the town and harbor side
Vibrate with her seclusion.
We tell you, tapping on our brows,
The story as it should be,—
As if the story of a house
Were told, or ever could be;
We'll have no kindly veil between
Her visions and those we have seen,—
As if we guessed what hers have been
Or what they are, or would be.
Meanwhile, we do no harm; for they
That with a god have striven,
Not hearing much of what we say,
Take what the god has given;
Though like waves breaking it may be,
Or like a changed familiar tree,
Or like a stairway to the sea,
Where down the blind are driven.
It Was a Bichon Frisé's Life ...
Louisiana skies paddle north nodding hello to some exiles
displaced by floodwaters so we all putter in the bisque
in fretted dresses, alleviated by a fan. But we have nothing on
"Le Matin," in whose rococo frame a curtain sweeps to bare
a boudoir, a Bichon Frisé worrying something between paws,
begging the dulcet glance of the mistress whose push-up,
cupless corset and up-drawn stocking border what they
fall short of, per the stern frame rippling like a cloud!
Even the candle angles to get a look in the mirror
engloving the scene. Why it is her slipper the bitch clutches!
The gentleman's reverie is elsewhere ... Loitering
Louisiana stops to admire this engraving by "N. Lavreinee."
What a chevalier! It makes the smeariest sunset think
it's in a Restoration Comedy, in such humidity
chefs defer meringues. "Ksar Rouge," "Taos Adobe,"
"Gulf Shrimp"—a thousand names of softboiled
lipsticks fritter English as if it were French, meaning
meeting no resistance from the flesh.
The world is full of loss; bring, wind, my love,
my home is where we make our meeting-place,
and love whatever I shall touch and read
within that face.
Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes;
peace to look, life to listen and confess,
freedom to find to find to find
At the gates to the Hereafter,
a rather drab affair, might as well be a union hall
in south Milwaukee, but with shackled
sweating bodies along the walls,
female, chiefly, and not at all miserable,
straining like bored sultanas at their fetters,
each of them singing a separate song.
A Semitic chap—the greeter, I suppose—
gives me the quick once-over
and most amused he seems to be. Has me figured.
Not unlike a gent I met only last week,
a salesman at a stereo shop on Broadway.
—So, he says. Nothing more.
—Sew buttons, says I, in a cavalier mood
and why not.
Ushers me into a tiny cinema,
a two-seater, really quite deluxe,
a great big Diet Coke in the cupholder,
—O.K.? he asks.
I nod and the film unrolls.
A 20-million-dollar home movie it is,
featuring yours truly: at the foot
of the stairs with the dog, mounting
Josette in a new Smyrna love nest,
a fraught kitchen showdown with Mom,
the suicide, car wreck, home run.
You know what these things are like:
the outlandish hairdos, pastel bathroom fixtures.
The editing is out of this world,
the whole shebang in under an hour:
the air-raid drill on Wednesday morning,
1957, when Tito wet his pants;
there I am, beside myself with laughter,
miserable little creature.
The elemental, slow-motion machinery
of character's forcing house.
Even with all the fancy camera angles,
jump cuts and the rest,
might as well be a chain of short features:
Animal Husbandry, Sexual Hygiene,
Lisboa by Night ...
What a lot of erections, voiding, pretzels,
bouncing the ball against the stoop.
She really did love you, all along.
These jealousies and rages of yours,
like a disgusting skin condition
that never goes away.
You, you ...
What catalogs of failure, self-deception ...
And then the lights come back on,
likewise the choir's splintered polyphony,
with its shards of Sprechstimme, the Ronettes, whatnot,
and in the air around us
something like the odor of a freshly spent cartridge,
when my minder asks brightly,
—How about another Coke?
T. S . ELIOT
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
S' io credessi che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piú scosse.
Ma perciocchè giammai di questo fondo
Non tornò vivo alcum, s' i' odo il vero,
Senza tema d' infamia ti rispondo.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the spot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate:
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"—
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase.
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
Excerpted from THE OPEN DOOR Copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Mastery and Mystery: Twenty-One Ways to Read a Century Editors’ Note
Ezra Pound In a Station of the Metro
Kay Ryan Sharks’ Teeth
Marie Ponsot Anti-Romantic
Roddy Lumsden The Young
LeRoi Jones Valéry as Dictator
Edwin Arlington Robinson Eros Turannos
Ange Mlinko It Was a Bichon Frisé’s Life . . .
Muriel Rukeyser Song
August Kleinzahler The Hereafter
T. S. Eliot The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Laura Kasischke Look
Weldon Kees From “Eight Variations”
Robert Creeley For Love
Mary Karr Disgraceland
Lucille Clifton sorrows
A. E. Stallings On Visiting a Borrowed Country House in Arcadia
Charles Wright Bedtime Story
Delmore Schwartz In the Naked Bed, In Plato’s Cave
William Matthews Mingus at the Showplace
Donald Justice Men at Forty
Ruth Stone Forecast
Craig Arnold Meditation on a Grapefruit
Josephine Miles The Hampton Institute Album
P. K. Page My Chosen Landscape
Theodore Roethke Florist’s Root Cellar
Wallace Stevens Tea at the Palaz of Hoon
Basil Bunting From Briggflatts
Louise Bogan Night
Rodney Jack After the Diagnosis
Margaret Atwood Pig Song
Michael S. Harper Blues Alabama
Isaac Rosenberg Break of Day in the Trenches
George Starbuck Of Late
Randall Jarrell Protocols
Tom Disch The Prisoners of War
Seamus Heaney A Dog Was Crying To-Night in Wicklow Also
Hart Crane At Melville’s Tomb
Robert Hayden O Daedalus, Fly Away Home
Charles Bukowski A Not So Good Night in the San Pedro of the World
Adrienne Rich Final Notations
W. H. Auden The Shield of Achilles
Albert Goldbarth He Has
Alice Fulton What I Like
Edna St. Vincent Millay Rendezvous
Sylvia Plath Fever 103
Lisel Mueller In the Thriving Season
Eleanor Wilner Magnificat
Atsuro Riley Hutch
Thomas Sayers Ellis Or,
Marianne Moore No Swan So Fine
John Berryman The Traveler
Averill Curdy Sparrow Trapped in the Airport
H. D. His Presence
Rae Armantrout Transactions
Gwendolyn Brooks The Children of the Poor
E. E. Cummings What If a Much of a Which of a Wind
Frederick Seidel Mu‘allaqa
Geoffrey Hill The Peacock of Alderton
May Swenson Green Red Brown and White
Anne Stevenson Inheriting My Grandmother’s Nightmare
Jeanne Murray Walker Little Blessing for My Floater
Brooklyn Copeland Prayer’s End
Jack Spicer “Any fool can get into an ocean . . . ”
Alan Dugan Fabrication of Ancestors
Edward Dorn Dark Ceiling
W. S. Merwin Search Party
Lorine Niedecker Three Poems
Denise Levertov Our Bodies
James Wright The Blessing
Robinson Jeffers Grass on the Cliff
W. S. Di Piero Big City Speech
Cid Corman From “Cahoots”
Richard Wilbur Hamlen Brook
Rita Dove Old Folk’s Home, Jerusalem
Don Paterson The Lie
Maxine Kumin Nurture
William Carlos Williams Paterson, Book V: The River of Heaven
Ted Hughes Heatwave
Frank O’Hara Chez Jane
Reginald Dwayne Betts “For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers”
Rachel Wetzsteon On Leaving the Bachelorette Brunch
Adrian Blevins How to Cook a Wolf
A. R. Ammons Gravelly Run
Samuel Menashe Here
Robert Duncan Returning to Roots of First Feeling
Langston Hughes Blues in Stereo
James Schuyler Korean Mums
Jacob Saenz Sweeping the States
George Oppen Birthplace: New Rochelle
Gary Snyder Song of the Tangle
Belle Randall A Child’s Garden of Gods
Isabella Gardner The Widow’s Yard
Thom Gunn Lines for a Book
Frank Bidart From “The Third Hour of the Night”
William Meredith The Illiterate
Rhina P. Espaillat Changeling
Maria Hummel Station
James Merrill The Mad Scene
W. S. Graham The Beast in the Space
William Butler Yeats The Fisherman