Sunday, June 10, 2007

Reader's Diary #274- Marie Harris and Kathleen Aguero (Editors): An Ear To The Ground (up to Cheryl Clarke)

I've long praised anthologies as the way to go for anyone looking to get into reading poetry. Some good ones I've found have had a good mix of classics alongside contemporary, Western alongside Eastern, and mainstream alongside underground or minority poems. Other good ones have narrowed their focus to highlight a particular group of poets, forms, themes, or other specific interest. This book would fall into the narrowed focus category.

Focusing on contemporary American poetry, Marie Harris and Kathleen Aguero go into much detail in the preface describing what American poetry should entail according to them. I have to admit, they got my defenses up a little at first. Criticizing the usual canon of poems taught by university profs as being too restricted to white, bourgeois male poets, they go on to say how this no longer, nor ever did, adequately reflect society. Fine and dandy. Except that's not the way I remember my university English classes or the anthologies that were used. An Ear to The Ground was published in 1989. Maybe times had changed dramatically in the 6 years it would take me to first enter university, maybe MUN was exceptionally openminded, maybe Marie Harris and Kathleen Aguero were using outdated research, who knows. We certainly studied female poets, black poets, aboriginal poets, Eastern poets, and so forth. But we also studied Frost and Thomas. As I think we should have. The impression I had after reading the preface to An Ear To The Ground was that it would intentionally exclude any straight, white male poetry regardless of quality. As a straight, white male, I obviously take exception to this- especially in a book that is a supposed anthology of contemporary poetry, not an anthology of contemporary anthology of poetry by everyone except straight, white males.

The good news is, the poems collected here are fantastic. Yes, I can tell by some names which poets are Hispanic or Native American. Yes, I can read in the short bios at the back who published in Gay Poet Monthly. Yes, I can read poems about women being beaten by their husbands. But politics, affirmative action, causes, fairness or whatever you want to call it, come second to the poetry. Harris and Aguero did a fine job of selecting the poems. There are great examples of almost every poetic device imaginable; alliteration, rich imagery, voice, etc. Some are more experimental, such as Russell Atkins's "Trainyard At Night" which mimics the sound of a thunderstorm to create mood. Others, like Robin Becker's "Medical Science", use more traditional means like narrative. While I haven't come across any formally structured poems yet (that I've recognized as such anyway), I am thoroughly appreciating the diverse collection. And maybe there have been some straight, white male poets thrown into the mix. At this point, I'm enjoying it too much to care one way or the other.

1 comment:

Dewey said...

I agree, I would rather get a journal of poetry or an anthology and read a variety of poetry than read one poet all at once. Usually, anyway.