Currently Reading: The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry

During college, I always disliked anthologies because they required me to lug around enormous, backbreaking textbooks, when we only read a fraction of the text anyway. Now that I’m out of school, I love the challenge that this anthology is awarding me.

As a nice little birthday present for myself, I decided to purchase a poetry anthology to sink my teeth into for the rest of the year. I’m taking my time with this one.

Edited by Rita Dove (go read “Thomas and Beulah”!), this book has a fascinating introduction about Dove’s process, and helps to frame the poems (and poets) that are included in this collection.

I’ve decided to work my way through the entire book- from Edgar Lee Masters to Terrance Hayes- and read each poem enough times over to at least understand the context of the writing. I don’t turn the page unless I feel comfortable with the page I’m on- Comfortable enough to discuss the poem openly in a room of academics. I make notes when I want to examine something further, and dive into deeper research. I circle words that need to be looked up. I dog-ear the pages of particularly striking poems. I’m having a blast.

What I like about this anthology is that there are no footnotes or parenthetical references; there is simply a small bio for each poet (date and place of birth, publications, an interesting fact), and the poetry itself. This means that every time something is in a different language, or references a work of ancient literature, I have to take the initiative to look it up. If I don’t, I’ll never learn!

This book is providing me with an interesting challenge, and is a great break from long work days. The most striking and beneficial thing I’ve noticed, is that poets I read in college never affected me the way they are now that I’m reading for myself. I recently Tweeted:

I read because I have a desire to learn. I want to be exposed to interesting poets. I want to challenge myself. I want to understand the framework of 20th century poetry, and come to conclusions based solely on the poems and their authors.

This isn’t the summer reading I typically do, but it sure is fun… And I think it will have a positive impact on my critical reading skills (one of my goals this year).


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