The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin

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William Logan has been called both the "preeminent poet-critic of his generation" and the "most hated man in American poetry." For more than a quarter century, in the keen-witted and bare-knuckled reviews that have graced the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement (London), and other journals, William Logan has delivered razor-sharp assessments of poets present and past. Logan, whom James Wolcott of Vanity Fair has praised as being "the best poetry critic in America," vividly assays the most memorable and most damning features of a poet's work. While his occasionally harsh judgments have raised some eyebrows and caused their share of controversy (a number of poets have offered to do him bodily harm), his readings offer the fresh and provocative perspectives of a passionate and uncompromising critic, unafraid to separate the tin from the gold.

The longer essays in The Undiscovered Country explore a variety of poets who have shaped and shadowed contemporary verse, measuring the critical and textual traditions of Shakespeare's sonnets, Whitman's use of the American vernacular, the mystery of Marianne Moore, and Milton's invention of personality, as well as offering a thorough reconsideration of Robert Lowell and a groundbreaking analysis of Sylvia Plath's relationship to her father.

Logan's unsparing "verse chronicles" present a survey of the successes and failures of contemporary verse. Neither a poet's tepid use of language nor lackadaisical ideas nor indulgence in grotesque sentimentality escapes this critic's eye. While railing against the blandness of much of today's poetry (and the critics who trumpet mediocre work), Logan also celebrates Paul Muldoon's high comedy, Anne Carson's quirky originality, Seamus Heaney's backward glances, Czeslaw Milosz's indictment of Polish poetry, and much more.

Praise for Logan's previous works:

Desperate Measures (2002)"When it comes to separating the serious from the fraudulent, the ambitious from the complacent, Logan has consistently shown us what is wheat and what is chaff.... The criticism we remember is neither savage nor mandarin.... There is no one in his generation more likely to write it than William Logan."--Adam Kirsch, Oxford American

Reputations of the Tongue (1999)"Is there today a more stringent, caring reader of American poetry than William Logan? Reputations of the Tongue may, at moments, read harshly. But this edge is one of deeply considered and concerned authority. A poet-critic engages closely with his masters, with his peers, with those whom he regards as falling short. This collection is an adventure of sensibility."--George Steiner

"William Logan's critical bedevilments-as well as his celebrations-are indispensable."--Bill Marx, Boston Globe

All the Rage (1998)"William Logan's reviews are malpractice suits."--Dennis O'Driscoll, Verse

"William Logan is the best practical critic around."--Christian Wiman, Poetry

Columbia University Press

Winner of the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
Logan has firmly established himself as the pit bull of mainstream poetry reviewers.

— Maureen N. McLane

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sharp writing about poetry can be as delightful as verse itself, a fact William Logan has been proving for years.

— John Freeman

Exception to the happy talk. His bracing new collection... is filled with hard-hitting reviews that hail quality and drub mediocrity.

— Bil Marx

Our wittiest critic of contemporary verse lets loose one lethal shaft after another.

— James Marcus


Impeccable understanding of great poetry.

Contemporary Poetry Review

The most complete analysis of contemporary English-language poets that we are likely to have.

William Logan is the best practical critic around.

— Christian Wiman

Chicago Tribune - Maureen N. McLane

Logan has firmly established himself as the pit bull of mainstream poetry reviewers.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - John Freeman

Sharp writing about poetry can be as delightful as verse itself, a fact William Logan has been proving for years.

WBUR.ORG - Bil Marx

Exception to the happy talk. His bracing new collection... is filled with hard-hitting reviews that hail quality and drub mediocrity.

Newsday - James Marcus

Our wittiest critic of contemporary verse lets loose one lethal shaft after another.

Poetry - Christian Wiman

William Logan is the best practical critic around.


Impeccable understanding of great poetry.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231136396
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 12/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

William Logan is author of five works of criticism, including Our Savage Art:Poetry and the Civil Tongue. He has received the inaugural Randall Jarrell Award in Poetry Criticism from the Poetry Foundation and the Corrington Medal for Literary Excellence, as well as numerous awards for his poetry. He is Alumni/ae Professor of English at the University of Florida.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsIntroduction: Poetry in the Age of TinPrisoner, Fancy-Man, Rowdy, Lawyer, Physician, Priest: Whitman's BragsVerse Chronicle: Sins and SensibilityVerse Chronicle: Vanity Fair"You Must Not Take it So Hard, Madame"The Mystery of Marianne MooreVerse Chronicle: No MercyVerse Chronicle: The Way of All FleshThe Extremity of the FleshLater AudenThe Triumph of Geoffrey HillVerse Chronicle: Author! Author!Verse Chronicle: Folk TalesHouseman's GhostsMilton in the Modern: The Invention of PersonalityVerse Chronicle: All Over the MapVerse Chronicle: Falls the ShadowPoetry and the Age: An IntroductionThe World Out-Herods HerodLowell's Bubble: A PostscriptVerse Chronicle: The Real Language of MenVerse Chronicle: Satanic MillsAuden's ShakespeareBerryman's ShakespeareThe Sins of the SonnetsPermissionsBooks Under ReviewIndex of Authors Reviewed

Columbia University Press

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012

    Makes reading literary criticism fun

    A convenient, almost-one-step-shopping way to get the lay of the land in contemporary poetry. Logan is a rare voice calling the play-it-safe poets of the current generation to account.

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